Arguably one of the greatest intellects ever to grace the Edinburgh International TV Festival spoke yesterday about his hope that the internet replaces television as the world’s most powerful medium, in order to restore “the conversation of democracy”.
Al Gore, the US vice-president under Bill Clinton between 1992 and 2000 – and who yesterday said he “had no plans to be a candidate [during the the next US Presidential elections], and I don’t expect to be a candidate” – spoke of how television in the USA and elsewhere in the world has become a tool to control information almost like before the invention of the printing press.
In the USA, it means the vast majority of political campaigning is done via 30-second adverts on TV, resulting in the American people being exposed to crude, bite-size pieces of information and sometimes disinformation, for political purposes.
In other words, many Americans still believe that former Iraq dictator, Saddam Hussein, was responsible for 9/11 – even though he wasn’t.
“Television has a quality that the internet does not. It also has a quasi-hypnotic effect on people,” he said, noting that the average American watches 4 hours 39 minutes of TV a day. And the control of TV is an instrument of wider control by the wealthy and powerful.
“I do believe that, in my country, and many other countries around the world, democracy is under attack.”
Presenting the Alternative MacTaggart Lecture at the festival, he added: “Democracy is a conversation and the most important role of the media is to facilitate that conversation. The printing press allowed individuals to gain access to much the same information that had previously been reserved for the few.”
At present, the internet cannibalises from TV, and it is not good enough – in terms of picture quality, etc – to replace TV as people’s preferred medium. One day soon, he hopes, the relationship will be reversed.