Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Dec. 17, 18 or 19
Pandering to moneyed interests that don’t share your values is like wearing pork-chop pants to a dog park: You’ll be popular for a bit, but sooner or later you’ll be eaten alive
“Correlation” isn’t “cause,” of course. However, one need not be a cynic to speculate about the possibility that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seemingly poised to lift the rules on media ownership is at least loosely linked to campaign contributions to President Obama, who has authority over the FCC.
The late, great U.S. Senator from Illinois, Democrat Paul Simon, once told me about the realities of campaign contributions, saying “Every day I spend hours on the phone asking for money. I have to. And if I’m elected and get phone calls from a constituent and from a contributor, whose call do you think I’ll take first? The donor; it’s human nature.”
FCC chair Julius Genachowski, a Democrat, has circulated to commissioners a draft “to streamline and modernize media ownership rules, including eliminating outdated prohibitions on newspaper-radio and TV-radio cross-ownership,” the FCC concedes.
The effort, for the third time in a decade, tries to free big media corporations to own newspapers, and broadcast stations in single cities in the nation’s top 20 markets, which has been banned since 1975. It could happen next month and affect the Chicago Tribune, which is coveted by Rupert Murdoch, whose NewsCorp already owns Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, 20th Century Fox movie studio, HarperCollins books and holdings throughout media throughout the world.
NewsCorp gave Obama’s campaign $130,862, according to the latest data from the Federal Election Commission, compared to $26,950 to Mitt Romney’s campaign. (Interestingly, data also show a $2,000 donation to U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, the Republican from the 18th Congressional District in west-central Illinois.)
The consequences of increased concentration of media control are obvious: more influence to fewer people; media owners and managers who are less diverse than their audiences; and less news with fewer journalists and more “safe” stories to appeal to advertisers, not communities. Plus, it runs counter to the expressed wishes of the American people.
The FCC has made exceptions for special circumstances and a handful of companies “grandfathered” in, but now media companies and the National Association of Broadcasters (which profit by using the public airwaves for free) say relaxing the restriction would help broadcasters and newspapers share resources and save money (which translates to layoffs as well as cutting redundancies – good business, possibly; lousy journalism, certainly.)
Democracy depends on an informed population and a variety of voices and sources. Fewer is worse, whether state-controlled media like China or many Mideast nations or corporation-dominated interests.
“A study reported in the standard scholarly journalistic publication Journalism Quarterly found that papers that were once competitive but were made monopolies by chains produced ‘higher prices and lower quality’,” wrote Ben Bagdikian in “Media Monopoly.”
That book was published in 1983, when 90% of U.S. media companies were owned by 50 companies. Now, 90% of media are owned by 6 companies: CBS, Disney, General Electric, NewsCorp. Time Warner and Viacom.
“These limits are supposed to encourage stations to compete with one another to provide quality journalism,” writes freepress.net, a group opposing media consolidation. “When one company owns everything in your town, it can cut staff and not worry about getting scooped by a competitor. The fewer reporters there are on the streets, the less journalism there is on the news. The fewer DJs there are at your local radio station, the more automated computers and pre-programmed playlists take over.”
Nine Senators this month expressed concerns in a letter to Genachowski.
“Admitting local voices to the conversation and promoting diverse viewpoints is an American value and a cornerstone of democracy,” added U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “While the Internet is an important alternative to traditional broadcast media, it is not yet a sufficient replacement, particularly in rural areas. Weaker rules would lead to greater consolidation and less diversity and local content.”
In 2003 and again in 2007, the Bush administration sought to ease the restriction, but the Senate voted to repeal the change, federal courts blocks its implementation, and 99% of about 3 million public comments opposed the change. What doesn’t Obama and the FCC understand?
Further, have they forgotten that Fox is a virtual megaphone for Republicans’ right-wing and pays Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum plus GOP organizers Dick Morris and Karl Rove? This is the outfit snagged for hacking people’s cell phones, remember?
After public-interest, labor, civil-rights and other groups complained, the FCC extended the time for public comment on cross-ownership, so everyday Americans can still weigh in at the FCC (www.fcc.gov/comments). Comments are due December 26; reply comments are due January 4.
The FCC’s announcement for input is online: www.fcc.gov/document/commission-seeks-comment-broadcast-ownership-report
[Pictured: Rupert Murdoch, from mediamatters.org]