GUEST EDITORIAL : Media consolidation is important for liberals and conservatives
Last updated 1/10/2008 at Noon
Media consolidation is rare among political issues; it brings together liberals and conservatives.
The number of owners of America’s media outlets has dramatically decreased and in recent weeks a renewed effort by the lobbyist of corporate media to further loosen media ownership rules shows that it’s likely to get worse. It poses a serious threat to our democracy.
The FCC was created in 1927 to regulate broadcasters. It was necessary to enforce practical matters – for instance, making sure radio stations kept their frequencies far enough apart and at power levels to ensure that they didn’t interfere with each other’s signal. It also established four principles to govern the public airways:
1. Diversity of ownership
2. Diversity of opinion
3. Promotion of localism (report local issues and serve local needs, like the excellent coverage of the recent fires)
4. To operate in the public interest (decency standards and educational content)
As long as station owners demonstrated that they met these conditions, they were granted a license to operate.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 removed the rules limiting ownership to 40 radio stations in the US. After passage of the act, there was an intense concentration of ownership.
A suppressed 1993 FCC report analyzed the impact of deregulation in the radio industry: from 1996 through 2003, the number of commercial radio stations rose six percent while the number of station owners fell 35 percent. Clear Channel alone now owns more than 1,200 stations.
In 2003, the FCC voted to loosen rules in virtually all areas of media ownership, including cross-ownership limits on radio and television stations. This was met by a tidal wave of nearly unanimous opposition from the public and diverse individuals and groups such as Senators Trent Lott (R) and Barbara Boxer (D), National Rifle Association, MoveOn, Parents Television Council (conservative group focused on decency on television), National Organization for Woman and the Catholic Church. The proposed rules were opposed in Congress and struck down in court.
The loosening of ownership rules goes against all four of the FCC’s principles.
Why is this a concern for conservatives and liberals? Because we all recognize that where citizens get their facts and commentary forms the basis of their voting patterns.
If radio, TV and newspapers are owned by the same six multinational corporations who are ideologically driven only by ratings and profits, there will necessarily be a narrowing of the political spectrum presented. What gets reported will be dictated by their corporate interests.
What ensures diversity of opinion in our media is diversity of ownership. Local ownership ensures local issues will be covered.
Serving the public interest will best be preserved by enforcing the original FCC principles. Please contact the FCC at http://www.fcc.gov/contacts.html.