Democrats & Liberals Archives

Theft of Our Airwaves

In what is truly a case of the privileged few versus the muzzled many, the FCC wants to further expand the consolidation of our media, which is already dominated by the broadcasting giants. Chairman Kevin Martin earlier this month proposed a relaxation of the rules against newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership within the same market area. And he’s trying to rush its enactment before the holidays, by ending its comment period on December 11.

Martin is well aware that there is overwhelming widespread objection to media consolidation, as was evident at the last public hearing on the matter which I attended in Seattle on November 9th. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Trent Lott (R-MS) have been leading the effort in the Senate to oppose the FCC's attempts at further consolidation.

Democratic FCC Commissioners Michael Copps & Jonathan Adelstein have been consistent voices at the FCC in favor of the public interest and against consolidation, but the Republican majority have ignored the overwhelming opposition even within their own party, and consistently sided with big media. Prior to Kevin Martin, it was Michael Powelll who did big media's bidding. But before you think I'm impugning only Republicans in the sellout of OUR airwaves to Big Media, consider that Powell was appointed to the FCC by Clinton in 1997, more than a year after Clinton himself signed into law the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a massive overhaul of the laws governing media ownership, which resulted in unprecedented consolidation of media.

Back in those days not too many people outside the industry were paying attention to the dry subject of media regulation, but Clear Channel Communications for instance went on a buying spree with the elimination of the 40-station ownership cap, and now owns over 1200. Rupert Murdoch, Disney Corporation, AOL-Time-Warner, and others have been subsequent beneficiaries of this monumental legislation. In the name of deregulation and "free" ownership, we have created a situation where smaller operations without huge capital are squeezed out, local stories get short shrift, and our news sources have become homogenized. It turns out those restrictions actually served to empower the little guys. Minority ownership is down; local ownership is down; and bots are running radio stations controlled from thousands of miles away, saving money for the owners, but not serving the needs of the public consumers of media.

Byron Dorgan of North Dakota has become a champion of derailing the consolidation train, in part due to a literal train derailment in his home state in 2002, when 210,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia was spilled near Minot. Authorities were unable to contact KCJB, the designated emergency broadcaster in a market where six of the seven commercial stations are owned by Clear Channel who typically pipe in broadcast material from elsewhere.

I'll warrant that the current deregulation is small potatoes compared to the monstrosity that Clinton signed into law, but it does include some back door provisions that make it worse in reality than it is on its face. We need to push lawmakers to go in the opposite direction and create incentives for more local and diverse control of all media. One step toward further consolidation is not the answer, no matter how Martin might spin it. The time is short for contacting your members of Congress on this, or registering your comment at the FCC (click on Media Ownership ...-Docket 06-121.)

For more background on media consolidation, few have poured as much energy into this issue impacting our democracy as Bill Moyers, who offers a primer here. A great timeline of events related to media consolidation can be found on PBS's NOW website.

Posted by Walker Willingham at November 30, 2007 2:15 PM
Comment #239701

I found it pretty ironic to read this opinion piece in the New York Times which comes out against this proposal when the New York Times itself enjoys an exception to this law with their ownership of WQXR in New York (apparently because they owned it before the law was enacted).

Media consolidation is a serious concern, but it very often seems that when it comes to regulating the media, the left has another agenda here—and that’s to throw up obstacles to any conservative voices and ensure their own stranglehold on opinion, even to the extent of not having to follow the rules themselves. Between this and the “Fairness Doctrine,” you really have to question their motives.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at November 30, 2007 2:40 PM
Comment #239713

During the many years that I have been a part of this media, I have seen many convolutions of the ownership rules of the FCC. At one time, not more than 7 stations (AM and FM) and 7 television stations could be owned…then there were other rules about cross-media ownership. It was all so restrictive and many times confusing.

With deregulation came a breath of fresh air for the broadcasting industry. The so-called “Fairness Doctrine” falling by the wayside was cheered by broadcasters everywhere, as it did away with the threat of FCC fines, lawsuits and needless reams and reams of paperwork (in triplicate…remember, we’re talking the US Government here).

I really can’t see why people are upset at consolidation, especially the print media. With newspaper readership at an all time low, and getting lower every day, I would think that they would be happy at consolidation.

Of course, consolidation means that they would have to start printing news that sells…and be extremely aware of the bottom line.

It is beyond obvious that the extreme left-leaning print media would be forced to return to the “objective” mode of reporting instead of their current “subjective” reporting style. They would have to please more people of all political persuasions and proactively shed their political agendas and biases. All of this, of course, would be to the benefit of the reader, as the reader would actually get the news…not somebody’s politically biased perception of the news.

I am absolutely for consolidation. I might even consider a subscription to The New York Times if that happens.

Posted by: Jim T at November 30, 2007 5:23 PM
Comment #239714

I completely agree with Loyal Opposition concerning motives. On the other hand I also agree with Walker that this consolidation is not a good thing. Just as merger mania is not a good thing in oil, insurance, banking etc. Recent years have shown us that our government will not stop any mergers regardless of their impact on the American public. Its all about the stock market and if a merger pushes up the dow then the goverment will approve it. Power in this country is being consolidated into the hands of fewer and fewer people who control the capital, the jobs and media in this country. This isn’t a Republican vs Democrat issue. If it was you would see one party vigously fighting merger mania.

Posted by: Carnak at November 30, 2007 5:38 PM
Comment #239778

Media conglomerates are nothing new. It takes a large corporation to fund a large news organization. Local Media cannot do National and International News. I think the internet will become(and has already)the source of the diversity we seek.

As to unfairness and political slants, I’m not sure how you avoid those. They were there in spades in Jefferson’s time and Randolph Hearst invented national slants. Popular viewpoints will be cheered, unpopular ones will be jeered. I still believe education is the key to seeing through the “yellow journalism”

Posted by: alien from the planet zorg at December 1, 2007 12:10 PM
Comment #239882

This should be of concern to more people. We need more voices independently informing us, not “economies of scale” that put the nervous system of democracy in the hands of the few.

The FCC’s decision here is unambiguously bad, no matter which side of the aisle one is on.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at December 3, 2007 10:56 AM
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