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"When television is good, nothing--not the theater, not the magazines
or newspapers--nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down
in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and
stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet
or rating book to distract you--and keep your eyes glued to that set
until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a
U.S. Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minow, May, 1961
This speech, the Wasteland Speech, actually titled "Television and the
Public Interest" was a doomsday speech for the medium of television, at a
time when there were only three networks and when the realm of televison was
much less vast than it is today. Nonetheless, it is accounted one of the 100
best American speeches of the 20th century by several authorities.
Thirty-five years after making this stunning indictment of the medium, Minow
told Canadian magazine Maclean's that little has changed. "I think in many
ways, sadly, it has deteriorated. We have a much wider choice, with the
advent of cable and public television. But I think that the level of stuff
thrown at kids, especially, has gone down."
He and other U.S. critics state the increased commercialization of
children's television during the 1980s, when the US Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) threw out their voluntary code on advertising to children.
Granted, at this time, other countries such as Canada adopted a strict code
on children's advertising -- limiting, for instance, the number and air time
At the time of the 1996 interview, Mr. Newton Minow was the chairman of the
Carnegie Foundation, a noteworthy philanthropic organization whose cash
endowment recipients include many programs on PBS, including Sesame Street,
ZOOM, Clifford the Big Red Dog (TV) and Between the Lions.