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Who doesn’t want “Balance,” anyway?

From Radio Ink:

Poll: Nearly Half Favor Government-Mandated ‘Balance’ In Media ASBURY PARK, NJ — August 15, 2008: Forty-seven percent of Americans think the government should require radio and TV stations to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal commentary, according to a new poll of 1,000 likely voters by Rasmussen Reports. Thirty-nine percent said they don’t want the government mandating political “balance” on radio and TV.


When you’re talking about abstract concepts and you ask people if they want things all one way, all another way, or equally balanced, they will invariably pick the option that hedges their bets and maximizes their flexibility.

That is, they will pick “balance.”

This doesn’t mean it’s what they really want. Because obviously if I never listen to or watch political content, then I don’t really want any of it, do I?

The ratings tell us that listeners vote with their behaviors in specific situations, not with their attitudes in broad, non-specific ones.

Research questions of this type, meanwhile, offer a menu of two extremes and one compromise. The obvious “right” answer is the compromise.

But being “right” doesn’t make it “true.”

I have yet to meet a radio station that chooses political inclination over ratings. And I have met a lot of radio stations. In fact, when it comes to broadcasting, ratings are their politics.

What listeners and viewers “want” from their political coverage is illustrated every time a Nielsen or Arbitron report is released.

Now this is apart from the other obvious point worth making: Namely that because “balance” is a nebulous concept, neither viewers nor listeners are good at recognizing it when they see it. This is why it’s relatively easy to frame a particular presentation as “balanced.”

So in the long run, should we legislate something the audience says they want, but doesn’t really – something they couldn’t even recognize if they got it?

I report, you decide.

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