The Mass-Media Gold Rush

Article excerpt

THE United States Congress has begun transforming the nation into a mediarchy shaped by powerful communications conglomerates.

What Americans need is a mixed mass communications system tempering the fattening of the corporate calf with the nourishment of the democratic spirit and soul.

What Capitol Hill is unleashing is a gold rush in cyberspace.

This is the intent of the telecommunications bill approved in late May by the House Commerce Committee. It would gut protections against over-concentration of media ownership and neutralize such safeguards as remain over a truly free TV marketplace of ideas. It would end the last vestiges of corporate responsibility to the public-interest standard. Consumer cable price controls are to be removed on all but the basic tier.

In the early 1980s some 50 companies ran about half of American media -- its newspapers, radio and TV stations, magazines, publishing houses, movie studios. Today's number is less than half that.

Corporate concentration in autos and canned soup is one thing. Domination of the mind-food market is quite another.

Under the original federal ownership rules, no single ownership entity could hold more than seven television stations, and seven AM and FM radio stations each. Only a single television station could be owned in the same market. Cross-ownership of a newspaper and a TV station in the same city was forbidden. If the House bill becomes law, as is likely, most of this will be scrapped.

The bill would abolish cross-ownership prohibitions. The same company could acquire two television stations, a newspaper, a phone company, and a cable system in the same town. The proposed rule, says Rep. Ed Markey (D) of Massachusetts, will make Citizen Kane "look like an underachiever. …