Media Monopoly On Notice
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Sometimes elected officials need to come face-to face with the overwhelming consequences of their actions before they are willing to change, or to overcome denial.
Some key members of Congress maybe undergoing this form of reality therapy as they begin to better grasp the stark ramifications of the media deregulation they have enabled. One overwhelming result of their actions, for example, is the Clear Channel Communications buying spree -- the company now owns more than 1200 radio stations -- which has run roughshod over the nation's commercial radio system, turning it into a wasteland of conformity and commercialism. In contrast, back in 1996, the combined total of the number of stations owned by the two largest radio chains was a mere 115.
Members of Congress of both parties, who are responsible for the deregulation debacle, are now being forced to take another look at the serious consequences of their actions because of a wide range of complaints emanating from grassroots organizations, from artistic producers, and from voters who, in the shadow of 9/11, are increasingly aware of how their media system shortchanges their needs .
When a New York Times poll shows that 42 percent of Americans think that Saddam Hussein and not Osama bin Laden was responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11, reasonable people begin to fear that our seemingly war-hungry corporate media system is serving to a dangerous extent as a propaganda tool.
A recent column in the New York Times by conservative pundit William Safire argued that the media system is hiding the real story because it is unwilling to "expose the broadcast lobby's pressure on Congress and the courts to allow station owners to gobble up more stations and cross-own local newspapers, thereby to determine what information residents of a local market receive." The Safire column suggests that even conservatives fear the rapid consolidation of media outlets. These protests from the establishment indicate, at the very least, some kind of split among the elites, which is often a necessary ingredient for change.
The coming months maybe the time when a wide range of groups come together -- probably under the public radar thanks to the war -- to stop the unbridled deregulation of the media system. There is increasing evidence that growing numbers of the public are willing to stand up and express their unhappiness with the way media conglomerates are using the public airwaves. And just last week FCC Chairman Michael Powell's deregulatory agenda suffered a rare defeat in a battle among the telecom companies over access to local phone systems, suggesting that the stifling influence he has exercised over the commission is at an end.
Powell is pushing to do to the rest of the media system what the FCC and Congress did with radio. As Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy reminds us, "If Powell is successful, one major TV network will be able to buy another, merge with cable giants, and swallow up newspapers and additional radio and TV stations. Channels serving diverse communities -- including Latinos and African Americans -- will continue to be owned principally by the giants."
The article that follows this editorial, written by activist Professor Bob McChesney and the Nation's Washington correspondent John Nichols, captures some of the spirit of the recent wave of energy bubbling up around this issue. New organizations are emerging and an anti-media concentration campaign may be brewing -- who knows maybe even a corporate campaign and boycott against Clear Channel maybe in the works.
For more background information, read Eric Boehlerts powerful article about Clear Channel and his series on media concentration available at Salon.com.. And while you are at it, the excerpt of Eric Alterman's book, "What Liberal Media?" is an excellent primer for understanding how the accusation of liberal bias has been central to rightwing propaganda spread by conservatives.
A healthy and democratic media has always been a central priority of AlterNet.org. Even though we and our audience understand the importance of independent media and particularly the need for a free internet , too many people are brainwashed by the corporate media system. The mind-numbing fare on television -- including the recent epidemic of reality shows which is just the latest example of a nosedive to the lowest common denominator -- is truly discouraging.
The only way to reach truly large audiences with independent media is to get more access to the public airwaves. AlterNet's Media Culture content page sends out an email newsletter every week to thousands of people interested in this issue. We will be closely tracking the movement for media fairness and democracy at Alternet and hope you will join with us in this fight. If you are interested in receiving our weekly MediaCulture newsletter, please go to our sign up page to become a subscriber.
Don Hazen is the Executive Editor of AlterNet.org.