The Awful Truth About Television: TV Corrodes Community and Democracy


Americans are watching more TV and doing less in their communities

Americans watch TV 4.5 hours per day on average. TV takes up so much time that citizens are becoming less active socially and politically. They also trust the government and each other less and less. Researcher Dr. Robert Putnam in a study found that the more TV people watched, the less they were involved in public activities.

“TV viewing is strongly and negatively related to social trust and group membership,” the study found. Newspaper reading, on the other hand, had a strong positive relationship. Newspaper readers were involved in larger numbers of political organizations. The study controlled for education, income, age, race, place of residence, work status, and gender.

The study also found that “heavy TV watching is one important reason why less educated people are less engaged in the life of their communities.”

TV: How the few can control the many

Television, because of the expense involved in production and distribution, inherently favors large corporations. Usually, the only other social entity able to afford the expense of TV is government.

It is inherently a one-to-many technology. The networks transmit one message over the airwaves or through the cable network to thousands or millions or, in the case of events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics, billions of minds. This is different from the internet where many people can interact and discuss as a group.

Furthermore, because of the tendency of the television set to shut down people’s ability to think critically, as discussed in the “TV’s hypnotic effect” article, the message that is blasted out over the airwaves enters viewers' minds unfiltered. Whether you agree with the message or not, that is simply too much power.

Five companies control the media

Looking at the amount of programming available, one might think that there is a wide variety of choice. There are literally hundreds of TV stations with options to choose from sports to news to cartoons to history to painting and more. The amount of options is staggering. However, only five major corporations control the majority of the media. Those companies get access to nearly every American for 4½ hours per day. The consequences to democracy are frightening. Millions of minds linked to five corporations for 4½ hours per day.

These five huge corporations—Disney, Time Warner, Bertelsmann of Germany, Murdoch's News Corporation, and Viacom (formerly CBS)—own not only most of the television stations, but most of the newspapers, magazines, books, and radio stations of the United States as well.

Politicians chase money for commercials

TV affects both the voters and the public servants they elect. In a recent speech, former Vice President Albert Gore noted that politicians spend so much time and money to purchase TV time for election ads that they do not have time to do the jobs voters elected them to do.

Politicians spent $515 million on television spots in the 2005 elections, the highest in a year with no Congressional or Presidential seats contested. This was up from the $300 million spent in the 2003 elections, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG. In New York alone, the mayoral candidates spent more than $44 million saturating the airwaves.

Imagine politics without TV

To understand the impact, try to imagine an election and politics without TV. Imagine no television attack ads. Imagine politicians no longer begging for money to cover the escalating costs of TV ads. Imagine reading about the debates, instead of watching the TV debate spectacle. Imagine engaged citizens, who instead of watching TV 4½ hours per day (1.33 billion hours per day for the US), spend a fraction of that time debating issues with their neighbors and participating actively in politics and the community. Nothing would be the same.

About 'The Awful Truth About Television' Series:

What happens when the average American spends 4 hours 32 minutes every day watching television? Trash Your TV's 'The Awful Truth About Television' Series explores the multifaceted problems with TV in eleven hard-hitting articles. Read the full series and you will never look at your television set the same way again.

Katherine Westphal is the founder of Trash Your TV! and the author of a revolutionary e-book system, The TV-FREE System. Get in control of your TV watching and create the life you want, whether it is to create the body, the mind, the business, the family, or the community of your dreams.

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