Magazine article Tikkun

Robert W. McChesney and Ben Scott on the Centrality of Media Reform

Magazine article Tikkun

Robert W. McChesney and Ben Scott on the Centrality of Media Reform

Article excerpt

WHATEVER ISSUE TOPS YOUR LIST OF PRIORITIES, REAL PROGRESS WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE UNLESS we first change our media system. Currently, access to communications and control over media content are vested in the hands of corporate titans. Commercial imperatives direct the system to the exclusion of all civic values. Even as technology promises to revitalize the media, the country is poorly informed, polarized, and marinated in lowest-common-denominator fluff and junk. Without a new direction in media policy, progressive and peaceful resolution ofthe many other serious problems before the American people will be considerably more difficult.

To improve the media, we need to fix the laws and policies that shape communications. That won't happen without widespread public involvement. In this letter, we present a set of guiding principles and specific recommendations that would truly reform our media and, in turn, transform our democracy.

1. Our media/communication systems are profit-driven, but they are not free-market. Today's media system is the result of extraordinary direct and indirect public subsidies. These include copyright protection; licenses to use the public airwaves for radio, TV, satellite, and cell phone companies; permission to use the public rights-of-way for the cable and telephone industries; and direct cash subsidies for telecommunications-just to name a few. The problem is not that these subsidies exist, but that the policies that produce them are made by powerful corporate interests with minimal public involvement or consent. The balance of public service and private interests must be restored.

Recommendation: Restore the original mission ofthe Federal Communications Commission as a guardian ofthe public interest. The FCC must become a twenty-first-century agency focused on the digital media marketplace of ideas and commerce, with a commitment to public engagement, transparency, and accountability.

2. Our democracy is premised upon the notion of a well-informed electorate with a diverse marketplace of ideas. Yet the current media system is failing to provide the news and information we need to hold our government and corporate leaders accountabk. Consolidation of media ownership has centralized control over production; to boost the bottom line, media giants have gutted newsrooms. Local, international, and investigative journalism no longer makes good business sense. Professional standards have weakened under commercial pressure. Too much of what passes for political journalism is simply analysis, spin, and pointless prognostication. We must recommit ourselves to a healthy news business through public policies that promote a diversity of ownership and content distribution.

Recommendations:

* Support ownership limits and public oversight to foster more diverse, competitive, and local ownership of radio, TV, and cable channels.

* Open antitrust investigations into vertically integrated media companies that control production and distribution through anti-competitive practices.

* Authorize the license of more noncommercial, low-power FM radio stations in communities nationwide.

* Guarantee channel space and sufficient funding for public access TV stations in every community.

* Reduce postal rates on public affairs magazines, the seedbeds of investigative journalism and serious political thought.

3. …

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