June 4, 2003
The FCC has ruled, and to no one's surprise, it has sided with the media conglomerates.
The FCC, by a narrow 3-to-2 partisan vote, loosened its regulations so that a single company can now own television stations that reach 45 percent of the nation's audience, up from 35 percent.
A single company can now own two or three TV stations in the nation's bigger markets.
And in these markets, a single company can also own the daily newspaper, as well as eight radio stations and the cable operation.
This will give Rupert Murdoch and Disney and Viacom the ability to dominate media markets every which way. And the FCC rule change will spawn more media mergers, as the industry becomes even more concentrated.
As a result, media giants will drive out competing voices, homogenize content, and provide canned news coverage from afar, instead of in-depth local coverage.
"At issue is whether a few corporations will be ceded gatekeeper control over the civil dialogue of our country; content control over our music, entertainment, and information; and veto power over the majority of what our families watch, hear, and read," said Commissioner Michael J. Copps, who warned of the " 'Clear Channelization' of the rest of the American media." (For a profile of Copps, see "Holding the Line at the FCC," by Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, in the April issue of The Progressive.)
The other dissenting commissioner, Jonathan S. Adelstein, said, "This plan is likely to damage the media landscape for generations to come. It threatens to degrade civil discourse and the quality of our society's intellectual, cultural, and political life. . . . In the end, this order simply makes it easier for existing media giants to gobble up more outlets and fortify their already massive market power."
One of the things that concerns me most is that a company like Fox will now be able to use its near-monopoly hold in some markets to force-feed us its rightwing propaganda.
During the Iraq War, even Fox anchors got into the act of denouncing peace protesters.. With this media change, Rupert Murdoch could denounce dissenters in the only morning paper, on eight radio stations, on cable, and on commercial TV.
We don't need to give Rupert Murdoch and Fox a greater hold on our throats. We need to loosen that hold. We need to deFoxify.
Fortunately, the FCC decision is not the final word on the subject.
Congress is already considering legislation to reverse the ruling.
And the reason it is doing so is because, all of a sudden, media activism has taken root across the country, thanks to the great work of McChesney and Nichols at mediareform.org, Gene Kimmelman at the Consumers Union, Andrew Schwartzman at the Media Access Project, Jeff Chester at the Center for Digital Democracy, and the folks at MoveOn.org. Even the NRA came out against this policy.
Today, there is a new mass movement now demanding media democracy. The FCC received an incredible 750,000 comments on the rule change, The New York Times reports, and "99.9 percent of them were against relaxing the media ownership rules."
So even though the decision by Michael Powell and the FCC was a distressing setback, it's not the end of the story by any means.
Elected officials tend to be more responsive to the public than FCC commissioners.
Let's see if they can stand the heat.