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Big Media, Big Trouble
Published on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 by the Madison Capital Times
Big Media, Big Trouble

Corporations do not like it when regulatory decisions are submitted to public scrutiny. That's because when the people enter the debate, it becomes a whole lot harder for businesses to advance their interests over that of the public interest.

That goes double for the big-media corporations that control so many radio and television stations, newspapers, cable systems and popular Internet sites. As CNN founder Ted Turner admits, "The media is too concentrated - too few people own too much."

The media conglomerates do not want it known that they got control of the airwaves not through good business moves but after Congress and the Federal Communications Commission made it easier for already large firms to merge, consolidate and dominate the nation's media landscape.

Nor do the media conglomerates want it known that they are seeking six changes in existing ownership rules which, if agreed to by the FCC in a June 2 vote, would allow media giants to get even more giant. The worst of these changes would permit distant corporations to dominate local markets by buying up the newspaper, most radio and television stations and the cable system and then merging newsrooms and consolidating most of what is seen, heard and discussed.

The men who run America's media conglomerates are preparing to begin a corporate feeding frenzy that will see hundreds, perhaps thousands, of local newspapers and broadcast outlets bought up by the big guys. But they are not letting their excitement show. News coverage of the debate leading up to the June 2 vote has been dismal.

When Americans learn what is at stake, however, they quickly determine that the changes would spell disaster for democratic discourse, cultural diversity and the public interest that the FCC is supposed to defend.

Who stands in opposition?

More than 100 members of Congress - ranging from Congressional Progressive Caucus stalwarts such as Madison's Tammy Baldwin to diehard conservatives such as Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. - have joined Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., in objecting to the FCC's rush to eliminate rules that protect against media monopoly and corporate consolidation.

Leaders of the AFL-CIO, the ACLU, the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, the National Council of La Raza, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and other public interest groups have signed letters demanding that the FCC seek more public comment before making decisions that "could have a sweeping impact on what news and information Americans see and hear in the future."

The Newspaper Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the National Association of Broadcasting Employees and Technicians, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the American Federation of Musicians and the Future of Music Coalition have all warned that making the changes could undermine American journalism and culture.

Close to 300 academics have come forward to say that the FCC is moving too quickly and without legitimate scholarship on these crucial rule-making decisions.

Rockers Tom Petty and Patti Smith have joined conservative columnist William Safire and the National Rifle Association, and the city councils of Chicago and Seattle, the Vermont House of Representatives in objecting. And public comments to the FCC have run 20-1 against making the changes.

The Capital Times proudly adds its voice to the chorus of opposition, As the editors of an independent, locally owned daily newspaper, we recognize that allowing media conglomerates to control more television stations, radio stations, and newspapers will ultimately warp the discourse that is essential to the health of American democracy.

Copyright 2003 The Capital Times


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