Geopolitics, The Air Waves and 'Utopia'
[Reprinted from Land & Liberty,
THE PROPOSAL that the economic value of natural resources should be
shared out on a global basis, for the benefit of mankind in
general, tends to be dismissed as Utopian.
This reaction is mainly designed to evade the issue of the fair
allocation of property rights, and it seeks to repress an examination
of the basis under which income is distributed.
But the World Administrative Radio Conference in Geneva last month
demonstrated that the proposal is not pie-in-the-sky.
For airwaves, to produce sound and vision on people's radios and TV
sets, are created by the combined efforts of brainpower and
technology. But they would not physically exist but for the demand
Now, under competitive conditions, the value of broadcasting exceeds
the income returned to the employed capital and labour. Thus, pure
economic rent is created as a direct result of consumer demand and the
possibility of harnessing a dimension of nature -- space -- to
transmit sound and vision. Economic rent is therefore directly
attributed to space.
WHO IS ENTITLED to own that rent? Surely not individuals or
companies? They are rewarded for their inputs, and can expect no more.
Surely not governments? They do not create space, and in any event
airwaves transcend national boundaries.
Broadcasting frequencies are a limited resource, and the demand for
them from commercial firms exceeds the supply. But there are also
geopolitical implications which were at the centre of the Geneva
At present, the Big Powers --Britain through the BBC's External
Services, the USA through the Voice of America, and the USSR through
Radio Moscow -- dominate the short wave and other forms of long
distance communication. This is complicated by the fact that
satellites are soon to make it easy for one nation to beam TV
programmes onto the sets of people across the world.
Third World countries want some of the frequencies reserved for them
NOW even though they do not yet possess the technology to use them.
This hardly seems an equitable way to use a scarce resource -- by
keeping it idle, denying others who could make good use of it.
The solution is simple. Those who wish to monopolise space should pay
a competitive price for the privilege!
THE RENTAL value should go into a common purse, to be used according
to priorities established by the international community. And that
must principally mean for the benefit of the hungry masses in the
Then, when the governments of the developing countries -- or their
private sector broadcasting companies -- wish to rule some of the
airwaves, they can do so. Providing they, in turn, pay the price for
the right to do so: rent, paid into the common purse from which they
had benefitted when in need.
But this solution does not just deal with problems linked to the
Third World. There is also a serious imminent problem within the West.
The British, for example, do not view with enthusiasm the prospect of
TV advertising being creamed off by a commercial station beaming
programmes from Luxembourg. The Irish are no less pleased with the
prospect of UK channels being available throughout the Republic.
The issue of national sovereignty is used as a smokescreen to conceal
the reality: the substance of the dispute is money.
Established economic principles enable us to resolve the issue in an
ethical way. Viewers should be free to take whatever programmes they
find pleasing; and the broadcasters - wherever they are territorially
located -- should be rewarded or penalised according to whether they
meet the wishes of audiences.
National governments, for their part, have no moral right to
intercept the airwaves by claiming exclusive rights to portions of
space ... any more than they have exclusive rights to tracts of the
But if nations cannot claim proprietorial rights to space, commercial
companies certainly do not have any right to the economic value of
that aspect of nature.
Furthermore, nor should the audiences be granted the benefit of
economic rent (by. for example, resolving the distribution problem by
not charging them rent). For space belongs to all of us, including
those who choose not to tune into the airwaves!
The solution is for the broadcasters to pay rent to the international
community. No-one, then, secures unfair financial advantage, or wields
undue political influence. And no-one distorts the demands of
And a source of finance is established to meet those needs of the
world which transcend the isolated problems of individuals or of
nations, but which are truly international in character and are
therefore the responsibility of us all.