A Democratic Socialist Perspective - articles
|Media Environmental Welfare Contact News Organizations||
Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio
|The Medium and the message - http://rightcortex.com/ourmedia/conference.html
This conference was fantastic! For all the details of what went on, and what you can do, see the link directly above.
|One more click!
The Uncompromising Liberal Media
|Media Advocacy for Change Links|
|Center for Public Integrity|
|Media Consolidation Links|
|A Timeline of Media Consolidation|
|(Please see story and info below)||
In a dictatorship, censorship in used; in a democracy, manipulation." - Ryszard Kapuscinski, journalist
" The corporate grip on opinion in the United States is one of the wonders of the Western world. No First World country has ever managed to eliminate so entirely from its media all objectivity - much less dissent."
Gore Vidal, novelist and critic
February 4, 2003
By SoCalDem and Jen6
A Timeline of Media Consolidation
Media Consolidation -Fifty major media entities in 1983 is now six. (2000)
In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S. At the time, Ben Bagdikian was called "alarmist" for pointing this out in his book, The Media Monopoly. In his 4th edition, published in 1992, he wrote "in the U.S., fewer than two dozen of these extraordinary creatures own and operate 90% of the mass media" -- controlling almost all of America's newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, books, records, movies, videos, wire services and photo agencies. He predicted then that eventually this number would fall to about half a dozen companies. This was greeted with skepticism at the time. When the 6th edition of The Media Monopoly was published in 2000, the number had fallen to six. Since then, there have been more mergers and the scope has expanded to include new media like the Internet market. http://www.corporations.org/media/
The Big Six Media
|TV, Radio, Books, Newspapers, Videos, records, Magazines, Movie Studios, Wire Services, and Media Satellite Technology|
Other large media:
Vivendi Universal- was created in December, 2000 out of a merger agreement between Vivendi, The Seagram Company Ltd., and Canal+. The international merger combined Vivendi's telecommunications assets with Seagram's film, television and music holdings (including Universal Studios) and Canal+'s programming and broadcast capacity.
Media Consolidation - the following web page links will help tell the story
The largest ten (Jan. 2002): http://www.thenation.com/special/bigten.html
Other sources: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/cool/giants/
The Center for Public Integrity has conducted an exhaustive report about media concentration and ownership and the media's influence on the FCC. Go to: Report
|Media Watch and Advocacy for Change:||Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting|
|Take Back the Media||Project Censured|
|The Center for P. I. - media database||Media Education Foundation|
|Free Press: Media Reform|
|Local Media Watch:||Right Cortex|
|Mediaocracy (A Chris Shumway Project)||Neighborhood Network|
The Death of Local News By Paul Schmelzer
CONTACT NEWS ORGANIZATIONS - Let them know you want unfiltered news. Calls are far more effective than E-mail
ABC NEWS CHIEF David Westin. 212.456.6200. fax: 212.456.4292.. ABC
SWITCHBOARD (ASK FOR NEWSROOM) 212.456.6813 NEWSROOM fax 212.456.2795
MSNBC AND NBC. MSNBC NEWS CHIEF Mark Effron. 201.583.510. fax:
201.583.5199 email@example.com. MSNBC SWITCHBOARD (ASK FOR NEWSROOM) 201.583.5000 fax: 201.583.5590
NBC NEWS CHIEF Neil Shapiro. 212.664.4773. fax: 212.664.2264[
firstname.lastname@example.org. NBC SWITCHBOARD (ASK FOR NEWSROOM) 212.664.4444. fax:
CBS NEWS CHIEF Andrew Hayward. 212.975.7825. fax: 212.975.7429.
email@example.com CBS SWITCHBOARD (ASK FOR NEWSROOM) 212.975.4321 fax:
CNN NEWS CHIEF Walter Isaacson. 404.827.5111. fax: 404.827.4215.
firstname.lastname@example.org CNN SWITCHBOARD (ASK FOR NEWSROOM). 404.827.1500.
PBS FACTUAL PROGRAMMING CHIEF Sandy Heberer 703.739.5036. PBS SWITCHBOARD (ASK FOR NEWSROOM) 212.708.3000
FOX NEWS CHIEF: John Moody. 212.301.8560. fax: 212.398.8726.
email@example.com FOX SWITCHBOARD (ASK FOR NEWSROOM) 212.575.4670. fax: 212.301.8274
WHENEVER YOU SEE OR HEAR BIASED COVERAGE, CALL THE
NEWS CHIEFS AND/OR NEWSROOMS AND INSIST ON RESPONSIBLE, IN-DEPTH JOURNALISM.
There is plenty every day to call about. Calls are best because they must halt misinforming the public while they deal with you. If you cannot reach policy makers, then fax or e-mail.
MEDIA MERGER MANIA AND
MOVEMENTS FOR MEDIA DEMOCRACY
Director, Citizens for independent Public Broadcasting
Pittsburgh Educational Television
for Citizens Grassroots Media Conference
Ohio, April 16-17, 2004
Mass communications are the lifeblood of our democracy. If citizens cannot communicate with each other, they can’t organize. If they can’t organize, they can’t defend themselves from those who would threaten the public interest.
U.S. today there are approximately 1,800 newspapers, 3,000 book publishers,
11,000 magazines, 11,000 radio stations, and 1,700 television stations.
Behind this illusion of great choice,
however, lies a collusion of interest that serves the giant media corporations
at the expense of American democracy and cultural diversity.
In 1994, a mere 50 companies owned a
controlling interest in all of these media. By 2002, this was down to six
companies. That’s right, just six companies.
Between 1975 and 2000, the number of TV
stations increased by 75 percent, but the number of TV station owners actually
declined by 33 percent.
In recorded music, just five companies
control more than 80 percent of the U.S. market.
More than 60 percent of daily newspapers
are part of chains and only a handful of cities have a competing daily.
Comcast and Time Warner (TW) dominate
the cable market where the average system makes a 30 percent profit. The FCC is
actively considering lifting the cap on one company’s share of the market from
30 percent to 45 percent of all households.
Direct Broadcast Satellite has cut into
the market for cable and now accounts for 18 million subscribers. However, only
two companies, DirecTV and Echo Star, control the market. DirecTV is owned by a
General Motors subsidiary and soon to be sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Every single one of the top 20 Internet
web sites is controlled by a media giant. Time Warner properties account for
nearly 30 percent of all user time spent online. Add Microsoft and Yahoo! And
it’s 50 percent.
Time Warner, General Electric (GE) and
News Corp, own all of the cable news networks. Almost all of these cable news
programs offer a conservative slant.
In October 2003, the University of
Maryland surveyed 3,000 people, measuring their knowledge of three simple facts
about the War in Iraq. They asked whether Iraq was involved in the 9/11
terrorist attacks or proven to be supporting al-Quaeda; whether weapons of mass
destruction had been found in Iraq; and whether international opinion favored
the U.S. in the war against Iraq.
They found that 60 percent of the public
had one or more misperceptions and eight percent had all three. Misperceptions
correlated strongly with support for the war. Those who got their news primarily
from Fox News had more misperceptions than anyone: 80 percent had at least one
and 45 percent had all three.
1996 Telecommunications Act lifted all caps on national radio station group
ownership and increased the number of stations one company can own in a single
market up to four in the smaller markets and eight in the largest.
This triggered a tidal wave of mergers
and acquisitions. Industry concentration increased by 34 percent. The number of
radio station owners with 20 or more stations doubled to a total of 50. The
largest two firms in each market average 74 percent of the market’s radio
Democratic FCC Commissioner Walter Copps
has commented: “Diversity of programming suffered. Homogenized music and
standardized programming crowded out local and regional talent. Creative artists
found it evermore difficult to obtain playtime. Editorial opinion polarized.
Competition in many towns became non-existent as a few companies bought up
virtually every station in the market.”
The leading radio group, San
Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications grew from 43 stations to 1,250,
accounting for more than 10 percent of all commercial radio stations in the U.S.
Clear Channel CEO Lowry Mays is a close
friend of President Bush. After 9/11, Clear Channel instituted a ban on about
150 songs that it felt mighty undermine public support for President Bush’s
declared “war on terrorism.” After Dixie Chick lead singer Natalie Maynes
told a British audience she was “ashamed to be from the same state” as the
President, Clear Channel banned the group’s songs on all their stations. After
the invasion of Iraq, Clear Channel used its resources to organize and promote
pro-war rallies. Other radio groups followed suit.
To extend its influence, Clear Channel
began buying music venues. It now has 135 amphitheaters, arenas, theaters and
clubs and sells 27 million concert tickets a year, accounting for 70 percent of
the entire industry. A letter to the FCC from 700 popular musicians accused
Clear Channel of refusing to play the songs of artists who don’t use its
concert promotion services and of accepting payola from music company promoters.
music directors and disc jockeys no longer have discretion over their playlists.
Rather, it’s all done by consultants and committees and put on computer files
to be distributed nationally from headquarters.
Five Media groups—CBS/Viacom, NBC,
Disney, Time Warner and Fox control 85 percent of prime time TV viewing.
to Amy Harmon of the New York Times: “…media
analysts and executives are convinced that the most efficient business plan is
to own as many outlets as possible to deliver the movies, television, music and
Controlling both content and
distribution eliminates the potential threat that your own productions will not
see the best positioning on a competitor’s distribution system. It also is a
method to avoid huge licensing fees for popular programs, like Friends, ER or
for the public, internally produced programs typically lack originality and are
diluted by bureaucratic compromise. Networks cut corners in the production. If
the show is a flop, it’s cheap enough that they can afford to leave it on
longer than they otherwise would. No matter how bad, the show can still be
“repurposed” into syndication on cable networks owned by the same company.
This, of course, makes it harder for new shows to break in. To make matters
worse, suppliers use their existing hit shows to pressure broadcasters into
buying more of their programming.
One entertainment attorney has suggested
that in five years even the major producers, like SONY and Universal, will be
out of the prime time producing business because the networks will shut out any
studio with which they are not affiliated.
A recent poll of television critics by Television
Week asked the question, “ Does network ownership of shows stifle
creativity?” 18 said yes, seven maybe, and only five no.
are other specific advantages to greater vertical integration for the media
corporations. It permits extensive cross-production, for example, joining film
releases with CDs, music videos, toys, games, books and other merchandising.
It permits cross-promotion,
that is advertising through other media controlled by the company, even
advertising TV programs to movie-goers who have paid for their ticket.
integration also leads to being able to offer multi-media packages to
advertisers that undercut the competition.
It also leads to a strategy
of emphasizing blockbuster hits in the global marketplace that can cover losses
on other projects. Because they play easier across language differences, such
productions typically feature sex, violence and special effects at the expense
of plot, dialogue and character development.
Since 1990, Time Warner and
Disney have more than doubled their share of revenue from overseas sales, from
15 percent to 35 percent. Both firms expect to do a majority of their business
abroad sometime this decade.
In music this means that
companies do not want, say, ten CDs that may gross $12 million each, but one
monster album that will gross ten times as much. They have spent tons on older
stars, through “megadeals” that have yielded many duds; money not spent on
several artists just as good, but still unknown. Artists who buy into this end
up dedicating all their energies to videos, touring and label promotion at the
expense of writing new music.
There are many other
consequences of increasing media concentration that impact negatively on the
New mergers and
acquisitions are premised on meeting enhanced profit projections by raising
revenue and cutting costs. This means more commercial sales adding up to more
program clutter for viewers, more ads and promos. Clutter now accounts for about
nine minutes in the average half hour TV show, a three-fold increase since the
It also means more staff
layoffs. One consequence is that print and broadcast newsrooms lack the staff to
do investigative reporting and cover breaking stories. In the past 20 years in
radio, the number of full-time station news staff has fallen almost 40 percent,
from 19,600 to 12,000. PR-generated material now accounts for between 40 and 70
percent of what is called news.
2002 survey of 103 television news directors by the Columbia Graduate School of
Journalism found almost half citing “not enough staff” as the “most
serious obstacle to producing quality news.” No other reason attracted more
than 11 percent. Seventy five percent said they try to do investigative
reporting, but only twenty five percent have full-time investigative units.
According to Walter
Cronkite, television’s corporate chieftains expect news departments to
generate the same sort of profits that entertainment programs do. He calls that
an impossible task and observes: “Instead of offering tough documentaries and
background on the issues that so deeply affect all of us, they’re turning
those programs into television copies of Photoplay magazine. News executives are
helpless when top management demands an increase in ratings to protect
A Pew Research Center survey of 287 journalists found up to
41 percent acknowledging reshaping and softening their stories due to perceived
pressures from corporate owners or the market.
Tom Brokaw states: “What
people truly want is the serious news of war, race, immigration, business,
health, education and environment, but “in too many newsrooms, those stories
are regarded as too boring…too risky.”
Even coverage of elections
has practically disappeared. During the 2000 presidential campaign, news
programs devoted an average of 45 seconds per show to the race. A 2002 study of
the top fifty markets found that under half contained any local election
coverage. Of these, only 20 percent contained any sound bites from the
candidates. Ninety-two percent of the coverage focused on campaign strategy and
only three percent on policy.
consequence, candidates spend up to a billion dollars an election on paid
political advertising. The media corporations contribute millions to the
campaigns of the big party candidates who, in turn, use the money to buy ad time
on the media. Worse, research has found that the candidates are charged premium
rates, rather than the discounted rates required by law.
Finally, the negative tone
of these paid attack ads ultimately serves to depress voter turnout in a nation
that already has the lowest level of voter participation in the modern world.
Another significant casualty of media consolidation has been
the loss of local programming. Media scholar Susan Douglas notes that satellite
transmission and national syndication has led to more radio carriage of shows
like Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh. She predicts: “If this trend in radio
continues,” that “discussion of local issues will be driven out
Cheryl Lianza of the Media
Access Project warns: “Citizens must have some recourse to coverage of local
issues from different vantage points” because, in her view, the real questions
are “who sits on the school board and who is elected mayor. It’s about
whether the garbage gets picked up, whether we can rely on our local hospitals
and whether our local employees are secure.”
Here is what we have come
to: Sinclair Broadcasting Group, based in Maryland, distributes to all its 62
affiliates a program called “News Central.” A one hour mix of local and
national news, New Central leads with a segment produced locally and then
follows with national and international news, sports and weather pieced together
from other Sinclair affiliates or CNN and anchored in Maryland. News staff at
the affiliates have been trimmed by about a third. Half of Sinclair affiliates
currently have no news staff at all.
About half of the Fox
affiliates and only a handful of Warner Brothers (WB) and UPN affiliates produce
local news. In fact, several top 10 market WB and UPN stations don’t air any
Another casualty has been
the loss of cultural diversity. Increasing media consolidation has resulted in a
26 percent drop in the already small number of black-owned stations.
People of color are now less than four percent of radio and TV owners.
Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow-Push Coalition, has made this a major focus of its
political work in Washington. In fact, the Minority Media and Telecommunications
Council appealed to the FCC for help. Unfortunately, it didn’t get any.
Even media companies that
program for Hispanics may not be run by Hispanics. The CEO’s of Univision and
HBC are both non-Hispanic Republicans and both organizations are largely
controlled by non-Hispanics. As the journalist Allison Gregor says, “the words
may be in Spanish, but authentic Hispanic voices may eventually be drowned out
altogether by those of non-Hispanic owners.
So who is the beneficiary
of all this media merger mania? If you say the shareholders, guess again.
According to a report by the consulting firm KPMG, as reported by the
London-based Reuters news service in 1999, 83 percent of mergers failed to
produce any benefits for the shareholders and, even more alarming, over half
actually destroyed value. In the communications industry, think of AOL/Time
Warner, Comcast and Vivendi Universal.
want to know who the winners, are check out the multi-million dollar salaries of
network executives and stars.
One cannot fault these
companies for following the logic of a profit driven system. But the airwaves
are owned by the public and only held in trust by the media companies. Where is
the government agency to represent the public interest in localism, diversity,
and democratic discussion?
Like all regulatory
agencies, the FCC has significantly more contact with lobbyists and officials
representing corporate America than it does with public interest groups and
ordinary citizens. Moreover, FCC commissioners and bureau leaders typically
count on such professional contacts in negotiating their post-FCC careers.
Between 1995 and 2003, FCC officials were showered with
nearly $2.8 million in travel and entertainment, most of it from the
telecommunications and broadcast industries the agency is supposed to regulate.
All told, agency officials took more than 2,500 industry-sponsored trips over
FCC Chairman Michael Powell says
that the “market is his religion” and that he has no idea of what is meant
by the public interest. However, the Chairman’s passion for the market does
not mean removing all rules and regulations. Republicans at the FCC want to
regulate corporate conflicts of interest, picking winners and losers. They just
do not want to have to acknowledge, let alone represent, the public interest in
In February 2003 Chairman Powell
made it clear there would be plenty of rules when he is finished: “I don’t
know what anybody is talking about when they say this is deregulation. We are
talking about a paradigm of competition, but in a very regulatory way. This is
not an Adam Smith market. This is industrial management.”
There are two prominent areas where
this is most apparent. First, the FCC appears to be ready to drop its frequently
repeated concerns for the first amendment rights of broadcasters to impose
significantly larger fines for indecency. Second, the Chair has legislated a
transition to digital television by 2007, despite the lack of interest of
networks, stations and consumers and resistance of equipment manufacturers.
The latest assault by the forces of media
consolidation on the public interest was the FCC’s June 2, 2003 ruling. Among
other things, the June 2nd ruling considered raising the cap on
national TV station ownership from 35 percent to 45 percent of the population,
significantly lowering the barriers to duopolies or two station combinations in
the same market, for the first time permitting triopolies in the big markets,
and lifting the ban on cross-ownership of broadcast stations and newspapers in
markets with at least four stations.
According to observers,
there are specific business advantages to networks owning more stations: they
can force smaller stations to eliminate local programming to make room for
network shows. In the recent past, this has included such things as preempting a
gubernatorial debate for the network’s regular commercial programming. Also,
networks can buy syndicated programs on better terms; and networks are free to
increase cross-promotion. Many stations have profit margins over 50 percent. The
more stations a network owns, the bigger its profits.
The FCC banned
newspaper-broadcast station cross-ownerships in 1976. In 1978, the Supreme Court
supported this action with the statement: “It is unrealistic to expect true
diversity from a commonly owned station-newspaper combination. The divergence of
their viewpoints cannot be expected to be the same as if they were
recent years, The Newspaper Association of America (which accounts for 90
percent of circulation) filed to eliminate the ban. The Tribune Company and
Gannett had a deep financial interest in getting approval.
Frank Blethen, publisher of
the Seattle Times, stated that cross-ownership is good for the
company’s advertising rates, but not good for the public. He charged:
“We’re creating a whole generation of publishers and editors who don’t
have the independence to speak out on these issues on behalf of the public.”
Chairman Powell, known to
favor all the rule changes, contended that new communications technologies had
rendered the old rules obsolete. Of course this argument ignores the fact that
technology is simply process and potential whose actual form and use is
determined by those who control it. And, as we have seen, control of these new
technologies rests in very few hands.
In October 2002, more than
40 groups signed a letter requesting that the FCC hold public hearings on the
proposed rule changes. The letter
included the results of a poll by the Consumer Federation of America showing
that, 70 percent of the public thought that media companies were getting too
big, 63 percent expected that broadcasters would be concerned only with
maximizing profits, and by margins of almost 3-1, people thought that
cross-mergers would create less diversity and were bad for the country.
In February 2003, some
13,000 groups and individuals filed legal briefs opposing the rule changes,
including the NAB, Newspaper Guild, NOW, Sony, AFTRA, and the National PTA.
That same month, the
Project for Excellence in Journalism issued the results of a five-year study of
172 stations that concluded that network affiliates generally produced higher
quality newscasts than network owned and operated stations and smaller station
groups were inclined to produce higher quality newscasts than those owned by
larger companies by “a significant margin.”
Despite calls by Democratic
Commissioner Walter Copps and others, FCC Chair Powell refused to call public
hearings. Television Week columnist Alex Ben later observed: “The rush
to judgment was because the longer it took, the more time there would be for
opposition to muster arguments, resources and political power…That is why a
decision of significant magnitude was made without proper public hearings,
without adequate time for outside comment, without taking into account all
points of view.”
Copps himself stepped up
and presided over fifteen informal hearings around the country, often
accompanied by the other Democratic Commissioner, Jonathan Adelstein.
The news media, acting in their own self-interest, systematically ignored this story. A survey by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that three-quarters of Americans had heard nothing about the debate over media ownership.
Nevertheless, public opposition was huge and
impressive. The coalition opposed included religious groups, labor groups,
public interest groups, consumer groups, and political groups ranging from
Common Cause, the Communication Workers of America and the Rainbow-Push
Coalition to the National Rifle Association, Catholic Conference and Parents
By the date of the
decision, some 2.3 million people had written to the FCC, almost all opposed to
the rule changes. This number would continue to grow through the summer.
The Center for Public
Integrity revealed that Powell, his Republican colleagues and their aides held
dozens of closed-door meetings with corporate lobbyists and CEOs. In response to
the public opposition, Powell complained that the normal rule-making process was
upset by “a concerted grassroots effort to attack the commission from the
outside in.” At the least, public interest groups know now that the Chair was
at least aware of the opposition.
Bipartisan concerns were
expressed from more than 150 members of Congress, including the Congressional
Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Congressional Pacific American
Caucus. Also the state of Vermont and city councils across the country passed
resolutions opposing the rule changes, including Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia,
San Francisco, Atlanta, and Buffalo.
Nevertheless, on June 2nd,
the FCC gave the industry everything it wanted. The New York Times called the
decision “among the most far-reaching deregulatory steps taken during the Bush
According to JP Morgan analyst Spencer Wang, the June
2nd ruling could lead to multiple station ownerships in 158 markets,
a four-fold increase. This could create more than one billion dollars in
additional revenue for the media companies. It also could mean that in large
cities, like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, one corporation could control the
cable operator, three television stations, eight radio stations and a daily
Television Week columnist Alex Ben predicts this latest deregulation
will result in even more “blandness and sameness” because “business
doesn’t like controversy.”
editorialized: “The bigger the company, the less likely it is to be an
independent voice that makes highly individual choices based on what is best for
the local market.”
now, the movement of opposition had gained its own momentum in Congress. Some
211 Democratic and Republican members of the House signed a letter calling for a
vote to overturn the FCC rule changes. Speaker Dennis Hastert and majority
leader Tom DeLay stalled this initiative in committee. If the opposition could
have mustered 218 votes, they would have had a majority of the House and could
have forced a floor vote on the roll back. Apparently, they could not.
The more the public became
informed, the more it was opposed to greater consolidation. In the summer, a
nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center found that half of all respondents
believed the decision will have a negative impact on the country, up from 34
percent in February. Only ten percent thought the impact would be positive.
On July 23, the House voted
400 to 21 to roll back the ownership cap to 35 percent without addressing the
other provisions. On September 16, the Senate used an extremely rare
parliamentary procedure to pass a bill repealing all the new regulations. The
bill was co-sponsored by Republican Senator Trent Lott and passed by a margin of
55-40, including the support of 12 Republicans.
President Bush supported
all the rule changes and threatened to veto any efforts by Congress to roll them
back. Because the roll back was so popular with the public, however, the
Congressional Republican leadership conspired to spare him that risk.
In November, a federal
appeals court responded to a filing by public interest groups and blocked the
changes until a full judicial review could determine whether the public interest
was being damaged.
On the first of December,
GOP lawmakers and the White House stunned everyone by announcing that they had
cut a deal to set the TV station ownership cap at 39 percent without even
consulting Congressional Democrats. This cap was to be made permanent. Also, FCC
reviews were spread out to every four years and not two. The deal was made
possible when Alaska Republican Senator abandoned his previous opposition.
Sources said 39 percent was
settled on as a concession to CBS and Fox, whose holdings already exceeded the
old cap at about 38 percent each. In fact, the law also provides a two-year
waiver for companies that go over 39 percent, which is how Fox and CBS came to
exceed the old cap in the first place.
Democrats were furious, but
it was not clear what they could do. Television Week editorialized:
“The 39 percent cap is a win for the networks…we are disturbed by the
politicking that wrested the issue from Congress and put it in the hands of a
few Washington power brokers.”
In the midst of this
struggle a new umbrella group emerged to coordinate the efforts of various
movements for media reform. Based in Western Massachusetts, the first act of the
new Free Press was to organize a major conference in Madison Wisconsin in
November 2003. They planned initially for 200 participants and 1,800 showed up.
The energy for the conference was high. Participants heard from Commissioner
Adelstein, journalists Studs Terkle and Bill Moyers, labor leaders John Sweeney
and Linda Foley, Ralph Nader, Jesse Jackson, PBS’s Pat Mitchell, humorist Al
Franken and many members of Congress.
The fight goes on. The Free
Press tracks progress and coordinates efforts on its web site www.freepress.net.
We have won some victories. Because of the attention brought to bear on Clear
Channel and the terrible consequences of radio consolidation, new limits on
radio station ownership have been imposed. Clear Channel actually will have to
divest itself of a few of its stations. Corporate sponsored junkets for FCC
commissioners have been stopped. Fines for indecency have been increased to the
point where they might actually discourage gratuitously offensive material.
Low power FM broadcasting,
that is small, nonprofit radio broadcasting stations with a reach of just a few
miles, recently received a huge boost. Based on new research, the FCC
recommended to Congress that it eliminate restrictions that deprive communities
of their own locally oriented radio stations. If Congress writes this into law,
it will clear the way for hundreds, if not thousands, of communities to begin to
broadcast. The newspaper-broadcast station cross-ownership issue is still
unresolved and remains a focus of public interest activism.
At present the movement for
media democracy operates on three broad fronts. There are organizations that
work on media policy issues through the Congress, the FCC and the courts, like
the Media Access Project, Institute for Public Representation of the Georgetown
University Law Center, Center for Digital Democracy and Consumer Federation of
America. They are invaluable to the struggle.
There are those who produce
and distribute media that offer alternative perspectives to that of the
corporate controlled media. This includes independent or “indie” media
centers that make videos about controversial issues, like global capitalism’s
impact on the third world, and bear witness to the work of progressive
movements. This also includes independent film and video makers who keep alive
the documentary form. Their organization is called the Association of
Independent Video and Film Makers.
Others produce public
affairs programs for distribution to public and public access stations. This
would include programs like Livelihood and In The Life. My own
Pittsburgh Educational Television (www.pittedtv.org)
produces a public affairs series called “Homefront” that plays on public and
public access stations around the country.
These producers are helped
by alternative distribution services, like public access stations, grassroots
community radio and direct broadcast satellite. Leaders here include the
Alliance for Community Media, Grassroots Radio Conference, National Federation
of Community Broadcasters, Free Speech Channel of The Dish Satellite Network,
and WorldLink TV.
And there are those who
organize themselves to support and reform public broadcasting in their own
communities, like the group Keep WYSO Local that, because of its activism, now
has a chance for vastly improving community radio in Yellow Springs and
My workshop to follow on
Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting (www.cipbonline.org)
will advise those interested on how they can improve national and local public
broadcasting to create space for greater cultural diversity and democratic
I close with the words of
distinguished journalist Edward R. Murrow, spoken in 1958 and still valid almost
50 years later: “There is no
suggestion here that networks or individual stations should operate as
philanthropies. But I can find nothing in the Bill of Rights or the
Communications Act that says that they must increase their net profits each
year, lest the Republic collapse…This instrument can teach, it can illuminate;
yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are
determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a
These are our media. We
need to take them back and we can.