Are TV Audience Measures a Pressing Governmental Interest?

by on September 17, 2004

Every once and awhile I see or hear something that reminds me just how far removed our society and government now is from the limited government principles of our founding. A front-page story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal on this ridiculous spat over the new Neilsen ratings system quotes Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT), who chairs the communications subcommittee, as follows: “It’s impossible to achieve a high quality of broadcasting if shoddy audience measurement practices are permitted to proliferate.”

I’m sorry, but why in the world are TV ratings system a pressing governmental matter? For the life of me, I cannot lay my finger on that portion of the Constitution that authorizes our government to do ANYTHING about “shoddy audience measurement practices” on television. I mean, come on, we’re talking about television!

It would be one thing if our government wasn’t accurately measuring our budget deficit (oh, wait, they don’t do that very well today), or the Social Security trust fund (oops, they don’t get that right either), or the number of WMDs over in Iraq (OK… I give up), but we’re talking about measuring television audiences here; hardly something that government should worry about, and certainly something it has no constitutional power to control.

Moreover, would the world really come to an end if TV audience measurements were a bit out of whack? There are measurement systems and practices for many other forms of media that our government doesn’t seem to worry about. Maybe Sen. Burns should get to the bottom of how that mysterious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tallies up votes for the Oscar awards. Did you know that the information about how many votes each actor or movie receive is never released to the public? Hopefully Sen. Burns and Congress get to the bottom of this scandal right after they get TV measurement systems fixed.

James Madison would be so proud.

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