Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Free speech and media consolidation

Speaking of speech---

I've long been dismayed by the increasing consolidation of media. And now it's apparently about to get worse.

Currently nearly all our news and entertainment is provided by a tiny group of megalopolies:

I bring this up today because I just received a call to the barracades by I reproduce their important statement of the issue below:

The Federal Communications Commission is once again taking up the issue of media ownership and deciding how media ownership rules should be changed. As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has warned: "They screwed it up once. Believe me, they're 100 percent capable of screwing it up again."
That's why it's crucial for the public to weigh in now. Here's what's at stake:
Big Media stifle viewpoints: If a corporation like News Corp. can buy multiple media outlets in a single city or town, it gains immense influence over what information is available. Consolidated corporations strip local newsrooms of staff, while pushing aside competing points of view. That means less diversity of voices and a narrower range of debate.
Big Media don't serve local communities: In exchange for their free and exclusive use of the public airwaves, broadcasters such as Sinclair are supposed to serve the public interest. Yet they frequently ignore important local issues, pander to sensationalism, provide biased coverage of elections, and stifle diverse viewpoints.
Big Media ignore diversity: Corporate media conglomerates like Tribune Company are more concerned with profits than responsible programming. Coverage of issues important to people of color, the working class and rural citizens are squelched or ignored because these people aren't advertisers' target audiences.
Without ownership limits, giant national corporations can buy up local stations and newspapers, eliminate diverse, local and independent programming. If the FCC is serious about fostering localism and diversity, it must enact protections against consolidated corporate ownership.
For decades, the biggest media companies have had the ear of the FCC and Congress, while the public has been ignored. As the FCC rewrites is ownership rules and Congress debates legislation that will shape the entire media system for years to come, it's time our policymakers listened to the public, not just the corporate lobbyists.

I would add another problem to this trend, recalling the freedom of speech issues in my last post: Big Media is destructive to democracy itself.

Big media has become a two-headed monster (democrat vs. republican?), but is really only a single subculture. Though the two heads are opposed on many issues (appearing to exhibit diversity) they agree on more things than not. Both are centered in New York and Washington and run by a relatively small group of people who know each other. Both are run by huge corporations with corporate and conservative interests. This is why they present all arguments as between the democrats and the republicans, why third parties are always dead before they start, and why populist movements are a thing of the past.

As do all subcultures, they quickly come to a consensus view of events and of the world. It’s astounding how quickly all the channels agree on “the story” --how they choose what to cover and how to present it-- each by following the others.

Certain things become true; some things are presented as important, or as good, or as scary…and others not. Remember Howard Dean’s “scream”. I was watching the news that day – people didn’t know what to make of it at first: no one had in memory seen a politician that energetic and forceful. But a few folks who were already anti-Dean said it was embarrassing, and those on the fence were swayed to that view, and within the day, the story was “Dean’s craziness”. No one took polls of the community – no one asked how it played at the event itself, or what the people in Ohio or Colorado thought of it. By the end of the day though, Dean’s presidential hopes were over, and the rest of the country – who might have had a different view in another context – had taken their cue from the media, and were laughing at him.

It is clear that when a single subculture has that kind of power over politics, democracy is at risk. Further, it becomes a target for cynical manipulation. Enter Fox News, influencing all media with their hard right-wing spin. (Remember how they all followed Fox in calling the 2004 election for Bush?)

The minority views – the voices of dissent, the new ideas, the regional perspectives, the third parties, the unknown stories -- are increasingly marginal, creating a public that is less and less aware of the complexities of the world and further disillusioned, impotent, and apathetic about politics. This is indeed a recipe for democratic disaster.

So, I urge everyone to make their voices heard on this issue. At the least, go to this website and send their letter to the FCC:


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