Coming This Fall … More Media Deregulation

For those disturbed by CNN and the
networks’ framing of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack
through such Hollywood-inspired slogans as
“American Under Attack” and “America Strikes
Back,” there is cause for even greater concern.
This fall, two media ownership laws will be
reconsidered by the Federal Communications
Commission, and given the commission’s Republican
majority, both will likely be thrown out.

For those disturbed by CNN and the
networks’ framing of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack
through such Hollywood-inspired slogans as
“American Under Attack” and “America Strikes
Back,” there is cause for even greater concern.
This fall, two media ownership laws will be
reconsidered by the Federal Communications
Commission, and given the commission’s Republican
majority, both will likely be thrown out.


First up for review is the 25-year-old rule
baring any single media company from owning both a
newspaper and a radio or television station in the
same market. The other rule likely to be tossed
stipulates that no media company can reach more
than 35 percent of U.S. television households.

Striking either of these laws would lay the
groundwork for even more media mega-mergers;
striking both at the same time would virtually
guarantee it.


“It is very likely that the
television market will resemble the auto industry,
where there are only three or four major players,”
Scott Cleland, an analyst for the Precursor Group,
a Washington-based research group, told the Los
Angeles Times on Oct. 22.


Americans don’t
pay much attention to the FCC, which is good for
the media industry. It’s also good for the FCC,
which is now headed by Michael K. Powell (son of
Colin), since Powell tends to view the media
industry like a media executive.

At a luncheon
sponsored by the Hollywood Radio and Television
Society on Oct. 19, Chairman Powell made clear
that he is no foe of media consolidation, and even
sees consolidation as a means for diversification
(sort of like those who see doing away with
affirmative action as a means for improving equal
opportunity).


“Media and television are
more diverse in 2001 than any other time in our
history,” said Powell, as if he were a character
out of an Orwell novel. “With more diversity,
there’s more fragmentation, and with fragmentation
it’s hard to make money.”


You can see media
executives heads wag, can you not? Especially
since media companies have been quick to report
their heavy losses from round-the-clock reporting
of the post-Sept. 11 disaster. Now, in light of the estimated
$100 million news companies spent covering the war
against terrorism and the estimated $500 million
in advertising revenue lost, they have even more
to cry about — and they can do it in the name of
public service.


FCC
Chairman Powell may believe, in twisted fashion,
that today’s television news exemplifies the
greatest diversity of voices in history and that
consolidating the media business from its current
fragmented state of eight or nine giants to a
streamlined cast of four will ensure a greater
cross-section of views. But history shows
otherwise.


Since the initial media deregulation of
the Ronald Reagan era, changes in FCC ownership
policy have brought about drastic budget cuts in
the news departments of TV networks because they
are now owned by entertainment conglomerates like
Disney that focus on the bottom line.


The results? News staff have been reduced.
Investigative units have been gutted. Foreign
bureaus closed.


Out of this morass has come
low-cost talking heads shows of the Fox News
variety, a hunt for eyeballs through ever more
lengthy and sensationalistic coverage of scandals
involving public figures and news that amuses —
infotainment.



This November, Jeff Chester’s Center for Digital
Democracy, is launching a letter-writing campaign
(
http://www.democraticmedia.org/getinvolved/contactwhitehouse/index.html
) to
protest the FCC’s deregulatory agenda.

Concerned media watchers should join it, or willfully
enter the golden era of Orwellian television news
programming.

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]

Author: Tamara Straus

News Service: AlterNet – October 23, 2001

URL: http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=11789