Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Independence? Fund Yourself!

A telling story in the New York Times. On the front page yet. The headline pulls its punches, but still, the story is there. The headline is:

Israel TV Station’s Troubles Reflect a Larger Political Battleground

Israel’s Chanel 10 television evidently published stories about Netanyahu’s travels to Europe as an elected official with his wife. Rich friends paid all of his bills, and Chanel 10 put these bills on the screen in news reports. Netanyahu was an elected official then and not yet prime minister. He travelled first class. The NYT describes his hotel suites as “baronial.” The friends-paid expenses included dry-cleaning bills for Madam Netanyahu’s clothes. So?

So what if Netanyahu had generous rich friends? Well, we have a case here of Caesar’s wife or, at minimum, Caesar’s wife’s dry-cleaning bills. Interested in clear language, such a situation makes for problem in drawing up clear definitions of what words like “corruption” mean, but that’s my problem. Chanel 10’s problem is that it is now on the brink of financial collapse. It owes money to a public regulatory body that, in turn, is controlled by the Parliament. The agency intended to extend the loan’s repayment schedule, but a Parliamentary committee nixed that generous offer. The moral of that story?

Well, Arsen, time to eat crow. Always have favored state-subsidized television. But, alas that has its problems too. Want independence? Fund yourself. But self-funding often means selling your soul to advertisers—because TV simply costs too much to spread that cost to individual contributions by subscribers. The snake in the paradise of Journalism and the People’s Right to Know and all that—as the snake in every other paradise—is money. You have to have lots of your own. And even then, if Caesar is powerful enough, somebody will testify under oath, persuaded by some politbureau or other, to send you one way to Gulag.

It ain’t easy. No way, José. Heaven will help us, but it’ll take a while.

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