Does public television ensure impartiality?

While discussing with a relative, he asked me about the libertarian position on public television. The idea of public television maintains that if the state doesn’t intervene in the market of media, private media companies (televisual or different) are free to edit and broadcast any news and this gives them the possibility to use this right to “damage” the image or reputation of an individual or group. As a result, the need for public television arises, the goal of which is to be impartial, neutral and always seek to show the truth.

Values is not property

A lot of individuals think that reputation belongs to them in the same way that their house or car does. These individuals commit a basic fallacy when they equate value with property. The whole point of property, or better said private property, is the solution of the inevitable problem of the universe we live in–scarcity. In order for us to fulfil our demands, we have to work with a scarce number of resources and this creates the need to avoid conflicts and maximize the use of these resources towards the most urgently-felt needs. Private property is not only a solution for these two problems, but also a natural right which can’t be endowed by man but only acknowledged and accepted. Value, on the other hand, is the total of thoughts that other people have for the object in discussion. Value is not rare; it can be erased, copied and changed endlessly whenever the individual desires so. Since the value is determined by the individual who observes it, value is not embedded in objects the way classical economists thought but is a result of human judgement. So value is not objective, but subjective!

If one says that he has a right to a certain value (reputation), then he is automatically also saying that others are obliged to think of him in that way. This naturally leads us to reduction ad absurdum, because positive rights, that is rights on the services of others, can’t exist. Nobody can claim a right on medical service because that implies the slavery of the doctor who is forced to offer these services. The only legitimate way for services to be offered is voluntarily. If one’s house or car is taken by force, then we are dealing with a case of robbery, but if one’s value changes then that person is in no position to claim recourse because no property was taken from him to begin with. Everybody is free to influence the thoughts of others and create impressions, this is what all do during our lives. But nobody is in a position to force somebody else to think of him the way he wants to.



Subjectivism–the inevitable problem

Knowing that value is not property but rather an abstract phenomenon created by the conscience of the individual, value can’t be measured or compared cardinally like length or temperature can. Value can’t be determined to be bad or good. In fact, the very notion of good and bad doesn’t even exist when we talk of value. Only preferences and tastes exist and they can’t be judged by other individuals because there is no basis for their judgement. Person A may think his reputation has been damaged even when person B wants to give him good press. If in the Western world one does the sign of fist with only the thumb up, one is showing approval and content. But if one does the exact same sign in Middle East, people will be offended and he can get in trouble. What is good press for one is not necessarily good press for another. How can public television solve the problem of subjectivism? It’s impossible, regardless of how professional or “moral” the editors are. The problem of subjectivism is not a mathematical task to be solved, it’s a cognitive product created by the individual for which there is no basis of judgement except the retrospective point of view.

The illusion of state

But even if we agree for the sake of the argument that the editors of public television know what is a good or a bad value because they can read the minds of every individual, the fact that individuals differ from each other makes the satisfaction of everyone impossible. But let’s skip this barrier too and let’s assume that whatever news is released reflects the value of the public. Has impartiality been achieved? Not really. It’s naive to think that the state, which is under constant pressure from interest groups, can be moral and is expected to show the news exactly how “it” thinks. Don’t forget that when we speak of the state we speak of the engine of propaganda, the corrupt organ that has historically suppressed the freedom of expression and truth in favour of special interests and bloodthirsty dictators. Everywhere in the world where there is public television special interests rush to influence the editors to broadcast their version of the “truth.” The fact that news is broadcasted that is “certified” by the public television makes the audience even less doubtful. “It wouldn’t be printed if it wasn’t true,” claims the public blindly. Special interests will be more successful in spreading lies because the gullible public will believe them more due to their blind misconception that public television guarantees impartiality. Instead of impartiality, dependency is nourished.

But this isn’t the only problem. As with every case of state management, economic problems will rear in their ugly heads. State television of Austria ORF, for example, has gone through a phase of deficits as a result of bad management. If ORF had been privately-owned, I wouldn’t have taken it as an example here because it would have vanished long time ago. The fact that it still exists shows that Austrian taxpayers are continuously funding an inefficient use of scarce resources in a manner that is in opposition with the desires of the consumers. To pay for impartiality, to get lies in return, and to finance bad management continuously doesn’t sound like a good solution.

Every state enterprise is a monopoly and as such damages private enterprises in the same industry. ORF is a strong competitor of media companies not because it serves the consumer well, but because it has an almost unlimited fund. Whilst private companies have to compete for profit with their products and services, ORF only needs to poke the government on the shoulder to tell them to use their monopoly of force and expropriate taxes. This makes it hard for private companies to compete and damages competition altogether. Economics 101 teaches us that when competition is distorted, quality falls and prices increase.

The problem of exclusivity

The inevitable problem with every state action is violence. In a free market, everything is offered voluntarily and everything can be negotiated or refused voluntarily. When the state decides to have public television, it doesn’t ask people individually whether they support the idea. In fact, it doesn’t ask them at all, it simply acts with violence. How can public television be justified when there are individuals like me who truly believe that impartiality and neutrality can only be offered by free competition between private media companies? The fact that taxpayers can’t be divided in the group of those who support the idea of public television and the group of anarcho-capitalists like me makes public television immoral. In a free market, I evaluate products and services subjectively and decide with my money. Somebody else may disagree with my evaluations but they are free to decide differently. The state doesn’t give you this option; whatever it does must be good for everyone because politicians are omnipotent and moral.

The power of free market

How can the free market solve the problems that appeared; subjectivism and the influence of interest groups? Subjectivism can be solved easily because decisions are taken individually. Everyone is free to buy that newspaper which he wants to read or watch that program which he (subjectively) thinks corresponds to his needs. Exclusivity is completely possible and this solves the problem of subjectivism. But what about interest groups? Because the property of media companies is private, it is cared for much more than public property. Instead of socializing the costs as is the case with public companies, the costs of bad management in private companies are a burden of the owners. If the owners agree to broadcast news that is distorted by interest groups, they personally shoulder the risk that if the public learns the truth the demand for their services will fall and they will face bankruptcy. Because in a free market there is competition, it’s in the interest of competitors to unmask the immoral practices of each other. Also don’t forget that in a free market consumers are much more sceptical and will believe less news to be true than in the case of public television. As a result, companies will be prompted to offer more convincing information in order to “sell” their news successfully. The methods of reporting, video filming, scientific evidence that support the news, etc., would be improved to increase credibility. All these are additional costs and companies that can’t handle them will have to leave the market. This would filter the market considerably by removing bad companies and making press more professional. Don’t forget that trust is difficult to earn in business. Business management professors say that only one in eleven lost consumers come back. Nothing in the world can compensate the lost of this trust. It’s hard to see someone pay for the costs of bankruptcy so that his distorted news can be presented. The fact that fewer companies would be willing to lie, usually only the small ones that have very little to lose, would drive up the price of lies. But even those lies that would be sold wouldn’t have much impact because they would come from small companies the information of which isn’t read much and isn’t taken so seriously. This would prompt the big companies to unmask them, bankrupt them and continue their domination.

Only the amoral and merciless market can respond to the desires of the consumer in the best manner. Its dynamism and the dependency that it imposes on private companies to serve the consumer, forces them to compete for better services and rarely for more efficient fraudulent methods.