Author and cultural critic Neil Postman asks is television destroying our culture by how it presents information?

Neil Postman discusses his latest publication 'Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business' (1985) in which he presents a theory that television is a form of pleasure drug where entertainment wins out over quality information.

Neil Postman asserts that the format of television distorts the news and information. In relation to television news reporting specifically he says,

In the first place, it will be thirty seconds. So, that suggests that it’s not something to worry about.

The fact that news reports are preceded by and followed by commercials trivialises the news content. He purports that the viewer is distracted by the beauty of the newsreader. The format of news presentation on television also means that there is another story waiting in the wings for the viewer to turn their attention to. While the information may not be a lie, Neil Postman believes that the context in which news is presented distorts it.

Neil Postman acknowledges that television has the capacity to create empathy for people but believes that the news is not well suited for the medium of television.

He argues that people expect television to present them with everything they need to function within their culture.

People go to television for everything.

Neil Postman asserts that television led to the shortening of the Vietnam War. People were presented with images of the enemy on television every night and the enemy did not look ferocious or evil. As such, the Vietnamese could not be easily presented as the enemy on television, in the same way as the Germans or Japanese were presented in America during World War II.  

Joe Mulholland of RTÉ refutes Neil Postman’s claims that television distorts the facts and says it rather limits the facts. He acknowledges that the Postman book generates some interesting ideas but says that very few people will read it. He sees television as a more accessible and stimulating medium than print for many. He describes television as a new technology in a new age that has brought many advantages to news coverage and in making the world a global village.

‘Slants’ broadcast on 9 March 1986. The presenter is Fintan O’Toole.

'Slants' was a series made by the media about the media and was presented by Richard Kearney and Fintan O'Toole.