Minow Assesses the State of TV 60 Years After ‘Vast Wasteland’ Remarks

Newton Minow
(Image credit: WTTW)

WASHINGTON—On May 9, 1961, then newly appointed FCC Chairman Newton Minow called television a “vast wasteland,” criticizing the medium for its violence, inanity and impact on children.

“When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better,” he told Congress. “But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.”

Sixty years later, in an interview with Chicago TV station WTTW, the former FCC chairman updated his assessment of television, expanding his criticism to cover social media and “fake news.”

“I think the issues for the next generation are the government’s role in social media,” Minow said, adding that he was proud of the strides television has made in educational TV but that local stations needed to remain diligent in ensuring unbiased coverage to their viewers. He also supports reinstating the FCC’s “Fairness Doctrine,” which was repealed in the 1980’s.

Minow’s interview can be viewed here.

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched digitalbroadcasting.com for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (www.tvtech.com), the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.