It is the day after and the media world and the emerging movements that oppose its growing power have a choice: Acceptance or resistance? The 3-2 FCC decision along party lines yesterday, was branded "the most far reaching deregulatory steps taken during the Bush Administration," by the New York Times.
It may foreshadow more to come, including a threat to the future of the Internet.
"As big media companies get bigger, they're likely to broadcast even more homogenized programming that increasingly appeals to the lowest common denominator," says dissenting FCC Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein. TV critic Tom Shales went further: "Michael Powell and the FCC are riding to the rescue of huge media conglomerates that need rescuing about as much as Spider-Man, Batman and the Terminator. Unfortunately, you and I and the freedom of speech are the ones getting trampled in the stampede."
These fears are considered an opportunity by investors who spent the day after the decision was announced buying more shares of the biggest media
Companies. It is expected there will be law suits on all sides as well as a hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday where Chairman Michael Powell, son of Colin, will face many Senators who are making oppositional noises.
"I want to emphasize that there is nor a partisan position here," says the disgraced and now rehabilitated Mississippi Senator Trent Lott who posed with two Democrats yesterday to say that "most" of the Republicans in the Congress do not agree with what critics call a further giveaway of the public airwaves."
Speaking for the broadcasters, Congressman Billy Tauzin of Louisiana of the House Committee that overseas the FCC praised his fellow Republicans on the Commission for "taking the first step toward removing the regulatory muzzle from American Broadcasting. Note the phrase "first step."
Yes Virginia, there are more changes to come, although it may not be as rapid as some critics believe. The Washington Post says " Many execs in TV, newspapers and radio say they expect a series of modest but steady acquisitions to take place, reshaping the media industry in five to 10 years.
The bad news is that the FCC has slipped its changes through with a minimum of debate despite 520, 000 comments filed on the proceeding," most negative. (There were many more informal comments organized by groups like Moveon.org) Television and film producers opposed the measure as did a handful of high profile media moguls like Ted Turner and Barry Diller. Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt called it a "right-wing power grab" The Washington Times reports that "Some Democratic presidential candidates see the media ownership ruling as an issue they can use against President Bush in the 2004 elections."
The good news, if there is any is in the words of FCC Commissioner Michael Copps is that this is just the "end of the beginning" and that a new citizens movement on media issues has been born. Writing in the Nation, John Nichols referenced a growing coalition which includes "passionate opposition from civil rights, consumer, labor, religious and community groups across the country." The fact that organizations on the right are involved suggests that this is not an issue that will go away especially as more conscious consumers experience its impact.
An attack on the Internet that may be waiting in the wings according to the usually well informed tech columnist Dan Gillmoor of the San Jose Mercury News. He writes: "It's not alarmist, given the plain-as-day trajectory of policies --including the FCC's own recent actions -- to suggest that the Net's
promise is in jeopardy. A few giant media and telecommunications companies could well grasp full control of the Net.
"Earlier this year, the FCC gave U.S. regional phone companies the right
to control access to their high-speed data pipes. This basically
mirrored earlier policies allowing the cable companies, which also
created networks by getting government-granted monopolies, to refuse to
share access to their lines. In other words, U.S. high-speed data access
will soon be under the thumb of two of the most anti-competitive
"I doubt they'd dare to stamp out speech they don't like. But they could turn their systems into what industry people call "walled
gardens, they discriminate against material they don't control.
This is not idle speculation. Cisco Systems, the company that sells the
gear used to direct Internet traffic around the Internet, is happily
offering telecommunications companies the tools to create these walled
Another communications medium at risk is satellite television. Next up on the FCC agenda is approval of Rupert Murdoch's latest bid to take over Direct TV. Jeff Chester of the Center for Democratic Media warns about this eventuality. The comment period on this merger lasts until June 16th.
Traditionally, the media is supposed to act as watchdog on corporate abuses, but today media institutions tend to act more in their corporate interests than in the public, as does the Administration as Paul Krugman noted in the New York Times.
"It's long past time for this administration to be held accountable. Over the last two years we've become accustomed to the pattern. Each time the administration comes up with another whopper, partisan supporters ‹ a group that includes a large segment of the news media ‹ obediently insist that black is white and up is down. Meanwhile the "liberal" media report only that some people say that black is black and up is up. And some Democratic politicians offer the administration invaluable cover by making excuses and playing down the extent of the lies."
And so the gauntlet has been thrown down to activists on all sides and everyone concerned with preserving democracy. Will media now become an counting issue or remain a complaint? Will activists organize around it, move on the media and press the press, or just resign themselves that media companies can do what they will.
The challenge to all of us is: Will we get involved to demand a higher level of restraint over media monopolies and more accountability and responsibility by media companies? Will we inform ourselves about media issues and realize that our cultural environment needs protecting just as our natural one does.
The airwaves are going, going, going. Will we all wake up before they are totally gone?
News Dissector Danny Schechter writes daily on Mediachannel.org. His latest book is "Media Wars: News at A Time of Terror" (Rowman & Littlefield.) A new book, "Weapons of Mass Deception" (ColdType.net) on media coverage of the Iraq War, is due soon.