Radio Gets A Policeman

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I inquired if they had the money to build such a station and they said that they had. Most of them had sold their property and they had about $200,000. We suggested to them that they use the $200,000 to buy time on existing stations instead of building a single station for themselves. Thus they could get a lot wider audience and a station would be of little use to them after the world came to an end.

About this time, in 1926, it became evident that much interference was coming in from abroad and that there had to be some kind of international regulation. Through the State Department, I secured the calling of an international conference which assembled in Washington on October 4, 1927. It was attended by delegates from 76 nations and I was elected to preside. The task proved so difficult that the sessions extended over five months.

We finally signed the treaties which established world order in radio by the assignment of wave bands and of certain principles of conduct. The curious thing is that most of these treaties have lasted to this day, in spite of all the wars and turmoil.

The small boys in radio were a constant interest to me. Having their own wave band they had established an association of radio amateurs with whom we dealt constantly.

One day I asked them how they were going to deal with enforcing the assignments of their wave band to prevent interference.

The president of the association said, “Well, I don’t think you’d like to know what we do.”

“Oh, yes,” I said, “I would.”

He said, “Well, we just take the fellow out and beat him up.”

The American system of radio has worked out pretty much as I envisaged its possibilities in my addresses to the conferences from 1922 to 1925. It has made, of course, a fabulous contribution to American life. But it has developed certain liabilities that have always distressed me. Aside from the abuses in advertising which I have already mentioned, the question of truth is far less safeguarded in the radio than in the press. Too often broadcasters disseminate mendacity, malice and defamation of character that no newspaper would ever countenance. To make things worse, there is no adequate answer to a lying microphone because the audience is never the same on any two days, or hours, whereas the newspaper can make a correction the following day reaching the same people. Thus there are great injustices perpetrated over the radio and in any event the privilege of answer to misrepresentation is practically limited to people of importance. Persons who do not have the influence to secure time for refutation do not have a chance to answer.

But remedy in the courts to libel and slander is very feeble. The common law on this subject has been attenuated by court rulings over the last fifty years to the point where the remedy does not amount to much. At the present moment, most plaintiffs must show actual financial damage. Whereas in Great Britain, which has almost the same libel laws, people can secure moral damage. Often enough the British courts award great sums for moral damage. If our libel and slander laws were restored on the British basis, we would have less of such rotten statements poured out over the radio.

The radio itself also lends itself to propaganda much more easily than the press or the platform. Officials currently in office have the preponderant time before the microphones. Theirs becomes the dominant voice. Propaganda, even when it sticks to facts, can be slanted by the magic of the human voice. All of which can be accomplished by emotion and emphasis on words and phrases.

Often enough nobody is interested in providing counter-propaganda. In any event few people can get access to radio to answer propaganda.

Another difficulty in radio is its instantaneous character. There is no time to check up on the reliability of information.

But despite these minor faults, the radio has been an enormous contributor to the advancement of the human race.