Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Blocking the Big Mouths: The Media Reform Movement Comes of Age

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Blocking the Big Mouths: The Media Reform Movement Comes of Age

Article excerpt

On Dec. 18, 2007, the Federal Communications Commission repealed a 32-year-old ban on any single company owning print and broadcast media outlets in the same local market. The decision was consistent with more than 25 years of FCC action increasing the concentrated power of corporate media. But in the past two years, the political winds have shifted. At their public hearings last year, the commissioners were deluged with citizen disapproval. And that public sentiment could force Congress to overrule the commission.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the FCC functioned as a government liaison office for the corporate media establishment. The five presidentially appointed commissioners are supposed to regulate the use of the public airwaves to ensure that the public interest is served. Instead, during those years, the FCC enacted a Big Media wish list of deregulation. Limits on advertising-per-hour were dropped, along with requirements for small amounts of non-entertainment public service programming and the Fairness Doctrine that required equal time for all sides of any controversial issue.

The race to deregulate the airwaves reached an apex with the 1996 Telecommunications Act that, among other things, lifted the lid on how many broadcast licenses could be held by a single company. Critics warned at the time that monopoly ownership was inconsistent with the public interest. But Big Media lobbyists claimed that in the then-dawning age of the Internet, citizens would have an infinite range of media choices. A few years later, one company, Clear Channel, owned 1,200 radio stations across the country, and many of them operated without local on-air staff, broadcasting canned formats fed from a computer at corporate headquarters.

As reported on the PBS series Now, the cost of media concentration became clear in January 2002 when a late-night train derailment in Minot, North Dakota, spilled a toxic cloud of anhydrous ammonia. Local authorities called the local radio stations to warn the public of the danger. But by then six of Minot's seven radio stations were owned by Clear Channel, and when the police called those stations there was nobody home.

Incidents like that, combined with public outrage at the media's part in the Iraq weapons of mass destruction seam, helped create what has become a mass movement for media reform. …

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