St. Thomas University
8 April 2009
Media ownership, like wealth, tends to accumulate into fewer and fewer hands in a capitalist economy. This leads to an increase in the importance of profit over content, a homogenization of opinion and a lack diverse programming. Since the 80s, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has consistently revoked regulations meant to prevent a concentration of media ownership and create a diversity of programming and opinion. It has gotten to the point where almost all media is owned by only a handful of companies, where the homogenization of ownership and ideas are greatly damaging society. This homogenization leads to less informed citizens, which leads to the breakdown of democratic society. Media consolidation must be stopped, and reversed. It can be done, but only if regulatory bodies like the FCC put their citizens ahead of the economic gains of corporations.
Marshall McLuhan would say media has always existed. But media in its current form, easily accessible newspapers, radio, and television, has only been around for about sixty or seventy years. The newest media, the internet, is still only a child, accessed by most of the world for just a little over a decade. Because of these four major forms of media, and especially the massively unregulated internet, many people would think there is a far greater diversity of ideas than ever before. But this is not the case. For the vast majority of Americans, ideas are coming from fewer and fewer sources. This trend has a long history, dating back to the founding of the FCC.
The first comprehensive legislation to regulate broadcasting in the US was the Federal Radio Act, which came into existence in 1927. This created the Federal Radio Commission, the first regulatory broadcast body in the US. The Federal Communications Commission came into existence with the Communications Act of 1934. Its purpose was to regulate the limited public radio band and international communications (US Government Title 1). It is not an elected body, rather its commissioners are appointed by the US president. Its mandate, according to the communications act of 1934 (amended in 1996), is to,
make available so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges (US Government Title 1).
From its inception the FCC was able to regulate and give licenses to broadcasters. Originally there was no charge for licenses. Once a charge was instituted, many independent radio operators were driven out of business by larger corporations. But the FCC was not always close with large corporations. The report on chain broadcasting, released in 1940, was , “one of the FCC’s earliest efforts to preserve and promote localism, via their efforts to limit the influence that broadcast networks could have over the programming decisions of their affiliates,” (Social Science Research Council). The report required NBC to break up, leading to the creation of ABC, and also limited the amount of air time companies (mainly CBS) could require from its local affiliates. In 1941 regulations were padded to prevent broadcasters from owning, “television stations that reach more than 35% of the nation’s homes,” (Bill Moyers). In 1946 the Dual Television Network Rule was enacted. It prevented any major network from buying another one. In 1964 the FCC created a rule preventing broadcasters from owning more than one television station in a single market (with the exception of very large markets). The 70s saw cross ownership rules come into existence, preventing broadcasters from owning media in more than one form in a single market (such as a television station and a newspaper) (Bill Moyers).
The FCC was supportive of competition for a brief period in the 80s. Before and during this decade it stopped treating telephone services as a monopoly. In 1982 it helped to split up the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. However, things changed drastically once President Ronald Reagan came to power. Reagan was known for massive deregulation. Under pressure from his corporate buddies and backers, he not only deregulated media, but also banking, business and the economy. This was because of his conservative ideals and pressures from other conservatives who believed in a supply-oriented economy. Essentially this means the government supporting entrepreneurs and business instead of helping workers with purchasing power. The idea was that by allowing the owners of business to generate more wealth by providing a so-called “free marketplace” (which simply means a deregulated marketplace where corporations have all the power), massive amounts of money would be generated and then trickle down to poorer people. The result of deregulation and trickle-down economics was the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the media slowly dying. These results are being felt today in both the media and economic crisis.
Under Reagan, the FCC, with the guise of increasing competition, began to roll back its regulations on monopoly and content (Now with Bill Moyers). In 1987, the fairness doctrine was removed. The doctrine was, “an attempt to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair,” (The Museam of Broadcast Communications). It stated that stations were public trustees with, “an obligation to afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance” (The Museam of Broadcast Communications). The idea was that, with a limited band, multiple viewpoints were needed on the stations available to people. However, some people argued that this prevented some important issues from being covered, as journalists may not want to provide both points of view (The Museam of Broadcast Communications). Although this is a line frequently touted by members of the FCC today, they rarely quote any research showing that the fairness doctrine had such a negative effect. In any case, by 1987, the much more diverse amount of programming available made it seem that this doctrine was no longer needed, and it was removed.
The removal of the fairness doctrine may have been legitimate in keeping with the first amendment, although its removal certainly came with problems (which will be discussed later in the essay) However, the eighties saw other, more harmful deregulation. In 1981 television licenses were extended from three to five years (Now with Bill Moyers). In ’85 the requirement for a minimum amount of information programming was abolished, as were limits on the amount of advertising. More deregulation was to follow.
In 1996 President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act. It lifted the cap on radio station ownership, which was set at 40 stations nationally. As a result, Clear Channel Communications is now able to and does own over 1200 radio stations (Now with Bill Moyers) across the US. This has led to almost total homogenization of radio programming across the United States.
The trend of deregulation and concentration of ownership came to a head in 2002, when the FCC declared a massive rollback of its regulations on media ownership. It would have increased allowable market shares from 35% to 45%, and eliminated the newspaper/broadcast cross ownership rule. This would mean that newspapers could own and be owned by companies with television and radio stations in the same market. The vast majority of the FCC commissioners voted for the de-regulation. One of only two dissenting commissioners was Jonathan Adelstein. He said, “this approach shatters most of the last vestiges of the consumer protections that weren’t eliminated in the 1980’s. This decision pulls the teeth out of the remaining rules, leaving the FCC a toothless tiger” (1).
The reforms over the decades have been sweeping and have led to a state of incredible concentration of media ownership. Thankfully, the proposed changes of 2002 have been blocked by the Supreme Court, but the FCC still supports them. And more deregulation may be coming. Newspapers are dying, and the US attorney general is considering loosening the pathetic anti-trust laws currently in place to try and bolster them (Craig Aaron). But even without these changes homogenization of content is incredible, with only a handful of companies owning all of the major media outlets in every market in the United States.
The concentration of media ownership is frightening nationally in the United States, and worse in many local areas. Almost every national television network is owned by AOL Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, General Electric or News Corp. These include HBO, the WB, Fox, CBS, ABC, MSNB, and dozens of others (Bill Moyers, Who Owns What). These same companies own the 13 largest film companies in the US, from 20th Century Fox to Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone, Miramax and others. They own Time Magazine, People, Sports Illustrated, the NY Post and several other major national magazines. Just three, Disney, AOL Time Warner and Vivendi Universal, own almost every major musical production company (a total of 18 labels between the three companies), including Island, Decca, Atlantic, Warner Brothers, MCA and others. They also own major stakes in the internet, theme parks, radio and in the case of News Corp, sports teams (like the New York Knicks and Rangers and the Los Angeles Dodgers) (Bill Moyers). There are “287 (radio) markets in the United States,” (Think and Ask), and Clear Channel Communications Inc. has radio stations in 201 of them. The company owns 1,207 radio stations. Its closest competitor, Cumulus Media, has 250 stations (Think and Ask). This means that, with the exception of the internet, almost all television, radio, music, and movies in the United States are produced by only 7 companies. There is some diversity created as they attempt to carve out a niche market, but with so few hands in the pot, almost every company can have a position in every niche market. With all of them placing a primary emphasis on profit, this means there is a massive homogenization of ideas and a huge lack of diversity.
The concentration of big media owners on generating capital has had a distinct, quantifiable impact on programming. Research into studies conducted before, during and after regulation (in the 1970s, 80s and 90s) reveals interesting findings. Ronald Bishop and Ernest A. Hakanen report that there is a,
pressing need for broadcasters to offer public affairs programming, a need based on the notion that stations not only continue to serve specific geographic areas but also fulfill their role as public trustees, which demands diversity in programming, political programming, and localism (261).
The important thing to take from this statement is the idea of broadcasters as public trustees. They are called to provide citizens in a democracy with the information they need to make informed choices, through diversity of programming. Public trusteeship, acting as if the broadcasters are owned by the public, is the method the US government had chosen to regulate media content. It chose this because it allows for flexible rules that protect both free speech, the idea of an informed public, and a free marketplace of ideas (262). It is an attempt to, “reconcile the competitive commercial pressures of broadcasting with the needs of a democracy,” (262). Unfortunately, after deregulation commercial pressures are crushing the needs of democracy.
The study these authors conducted reveals that once media was deregulated by the FCC, the amount and quality of local, non news, public affairs programming greatly declined (261), suggesting that, “that stations have not maintained their commitment to local public affairs programming” (261). According to Hakanen and Bishop there are three realms in broadcasting which are important for maintaining free speech and a marketplace of ideas. These are, “diversity of programming, political discourse, and localism,” (263). According to the authors, local non-news public affairs programming is a great litmus test of all three of these realms. The symptom of the failure of that programming is indicative of a larger sickness in broadcasting. Their essay goes further, saying localism is the most important aspect. It adds that in the past the FCC required that, “station officials … talk to community leaders of all stripes to learn about problems facing residents and then create programming that dealt with these issues,” (263), a practice which has largely died since deregulation in the 80s.
Deregulation itself is the cause of the problems (264). Where in the 70s the FCC required detailed reports on community contacts and time dedicated to local issues programming, in the 80s these reports became less important (264). The FCC eliminated the strict 10 percent non-entertainment programming requirement and 5 percent public affairs requirement (264). It replaced this with an overbroad and almost unenforceable requirement to air, “‘some’ programming that meets the community’s needs,” (264). To meet this standard, most broadcasters have opted to create more local television news (264). Unfortunately, this often comes in the form of facts without analysis or context, with “sensationalism … at the expense of coverage of local government and politics” (265). Hakanen and Bishop criticize this type of news for not giving enough information to citizens. Once again, profit is shown to be more important than content as broadcasters choose, or create, stories that draw audiences instead of ones that inform the public (265). And just as sinister, broadcasters have created a, “ghetto,” (265) for what little public affairs programming they are required to produce. This means they place public affairs and local programming during the early morning and weekends. These are timeslots where ratings won’t be lost. As such, broadcasters won’t lose advertising money.
Hakanen and Bishop also address the broadcasters’, and the FCC’s, argument that more channels lead to more voices, and as such each broadcaster needs less public affairs programming. They say, “while the range of programs may grow, their relevance to the communities served by broadcasters may not,” (266). In other words, there are more voices, they just are not saying anything worthwhile.
So what does all this information mean? The best way to look at it is in the context of the idea of the free marketplace of ideas suggested by John Milton and advocated by John Stuart Mill. Mill advocates a system where there can be a free exchange of ideas and opinions, and believes that the best ideas will win out. In a modern context some limits, such as hate speech legislation, must be placed on this marketplace. In the past limits on content and ownership were meant to, and did, serve the idea of a free exchange of diverse opinions and ideas. The lack of regulation has allowed companies to regulate their own content, but for profit instead of for actual quality programming. There must be no mistake; there is not a free press, or a free marketplace, in the United States. Unregulated does not equal free, unregulated equals corporate control, the opposite of free. Government regulation is far preferable, as it can at least be restrained by the democracy and a constitution. There is nothing to limit the limits corporations can put on content as they search out more and more profit. The homogenization of ownership of important media is causing local, diverse, and public affairs programming, to be drowned out by safe fluff that boosts ratings.
This fluff means that content is losing in a battle against profit. In his book, On Liberty, Mill riles against government interference and against people who prefer to have, “peace in the intellectual world,” (On Liberty Ch. 2) over “free and daring speculation on the highest subjects” (Ch 2). He warns that such people narrow, “their thoughts and interests to things which can be spoken of without venturing within the region of principles, that is, to small practical matters” (Ch 2). This is exactly what is happening thanks to a concentration in media ownership. In the past government regulation actually helped to create these controversial conversations Mill advocated. Now, newspapers and broadcasters are choosing these polite conversations, and are doing so at the price of real, important discussion.
Mill says that opinions must be, “fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed” (Ch 2), or else they “will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth,” (Ch 2). Opinions are not being fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed, especially controversial opinions. There is an interesting case study which supports this idea. The concentration of media ownership has, in the recent past, had a quantifiable impact on the United States. This is best shown in the case of the Iraq war. After September 11th, many, probably most, journalists in the US were caught up in a kind of patriotic zeal. They often unquestioningly supported the Bush administration. This led to reporters towing the “company line,” and providing the American public with lies from the Bush administration. There was a massive failure in the American media to investigate US intelligence and report accurate news, and the media is largely to blame for the illegal, difficult and costly war that is now ongoing.
It could be said that the poor reporting following 9/11 has little to do with the owners of media, that it was the fault of the patriotic surge at the time and the fault of reporters for going along with it. Although individual reporters are certainly at fault and the zeitgeist was a powerful force to overcome, it is the situation set up by media concentration and deregulation that allowed such poor reporting to happen. This is demonstrated in several cases.
The most interesting case is that of Phil Donahue. He was the host of Donahue, MSNBCs highest rated show during the post 9/11 years. His show was one of very few that allowed anti-war voices on the air (Democracy Now). He was fired in 2003 for the thinly veiled excuse of low ratings (again while having NBCs highest rated show). The real reason, as outlined in a memo from NBC, was that the network,
didn’t want to have their flagship show, no matter how successful it was, the most popular show on MSNBC, being one that provided a forum for anti-war voices. They didn’t want an anti-war face when the other networks were waving the American flag. (Democracy Now)
Donahue was only trying to host, “a place where dissent could be heard” (Democracy Now). He recognizes that, “today, that collective middle is occupied not by a whole lot of people, but by fewer and fewer corporations, larger and larger in size, much more concerned about the bottom line than they are about sticking their nose under the tent” (Democracy Now). As Donahue puts it, “everybody is under pressure to shut up and sing” (Democracy Now).
As Donahue suggests, the real problem is that, when media ownership becomes centralized and content becomes deregulated, profit is emphasized over content. NBC was afraid of losing viewers when the zeitgeist was so pro-war, so they cut off the man who was one of the only responsible mainstream journalists in the United States at the time. They chose polite conversation over free and fearless discussion. This reveals a culture where rational dissent was silenced for profit.
The mindset present in media today, the one that got Phil Donahue fired, has a serious consequence. It is that many journalists will now not only censor themselves for fear of losing their jobs, but that the owners of media are hiring people who they do not need to intimidate. These are journalists and editors who willingly choose fluff stories, know not to dig to deep, know to tow the company line, and know to give Americans what they want to hear instead of what they need. Phil Donahue stepped outside of these bounds, and was made an example as a result. This is the real cause of the poor reporting following 9/11. To further illustrate that point, this essay will examine a great example of the type of reporters and reporting that flourishes in such an atmosphere.
Judith Miller was an investigative reporter at the New York Times, and also worked as an embedded reporter once the war on Iraq began. She had seemingly incredible access to Bush administration insiders, and was great at getting early scoops. She was one of the first journalists in America to report that Saddam Hussein, “embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb” (Miller 1) and co-wrote the notorious aluminum tubes line, “Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium” (1). Her smoking gun article only mentions, “Bush administration officials” (1), and “a senior administration official” (1), and does not give names for sources.
Miller’s reporting was incorrect. The Bush administration fed her, and others, false information about the WMDs, even though the administration had hard intelligence saying there were none (The Huffington Post). This reveals a horrible situation in the United States. Journalists were no longer a check on the government, instead they were pawns used to mislead a country into a costly and illegal war. Miller was not alone, many other journalists (such as her co-author Michael Gordon) reported information from anonymous sources in the Bush administration, and fuelled a cycle of speculation about WMDs in Iraq that helped lead to the war.
Miller was apologetic about her coverage of the war. She is quoted as saying, “I got it totally wrong. … If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could” (Don Van Natta Jr. 2). Unfortunately this apology seems to place the blame on the people who lied to Miller. She ignores the fact that, as a journalist, she is responsible to delve deep and to not take her sources words as gospel. Although she has an incredible body of work behind her, her reliance on and ties to administration officials are inexcusable when considering the disastorous results of post 9/11 reporting, especially in the context of the concentration of media ownership.Even the editors of the NY Times criticised their own paper for its post 9/11 coverage, labelling the errors of Miller and other reporters as “institutional … failures” (Don Van Natta Jr. 2). It was not just shoddy reporting, it was encouraged by the entire organization. And although the post 9/11 zeitgeist is gone and the apologies have been made, the root cause of this problem still exists.
Miller had already lost much of her credibility as a result of her pre-war reporting. But terrible mistakes continued. She was still being used by Bush officials. In an outright attack against Joseph Wilson, a former diplomat who was critical of the War on Iraq, the Bush administrates leaked that his wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent (Don Can Natta Jr. 2). I Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, was the insider who told Miller and other reporters(Don Can Natta Jr. 2). Miller did not write a story about Plame, but others did, and an investigation into the matter found out she knew about Plame. She refused to testify, wanting to keep her source secret (Don Can Natta Jr. 2), and was imprisoned until she eventually testified.
This entire affair was a circus. Miller did not to write a story about Plame, but she tried to write one; she was told no by her editors (Don Can Natta Jr. 3). She was willing to write a story that could lead to the death of an undercover CIA agent, a story that had no value to the public interest, a story that would probably sell lots of papers, and a story that was really nothing more then an attempt by the Bush administration to silence a critic. Miller was willing to go to prison to protect an official who was committing a serious crime in telling her the information about Plame. He was from an administration that had knowingly lied to and used her in the past. And the worst part is that the New York Times backed Miller. Again, Miller shows the shoddy reporting, and the Times shows the institutional failure, that has stemmed from deregulation and media consolidation.
Miller eventually had to retire from the Times. She was an irresponsible journalist. But her stories followed the Zeitgeist, and they sold papers. She was backed by her organisation right up until the end, when it chose to distance itself from her after her reputation was ruined. Miller is gone, but the biggest problem of the concentration of media ownership remains, the emphasis on profit over content.
This emphasis is still ruining responsible media in the United States. There are few better examples than that of the absence of reporting on the US Senate Select Committee on Intellegence findings about intellegence leading up to the war in Iraq. The report was released in the summer of 2008 and said “the president and his top officials deliberately misrepresented secret intelligence to make the case to invade Iraq” (The Huffington Post). The report was a damning indictment of the Bush administration, one which should have been on the front page of every newspaper and at the top of every newscast in America. But it was not. No major news network covered it, except for a very brief mention on ABC. It was even passed over by most major newspapers. The New York Times ran a story but it was buried deep inside the Washington section. Basically the only media outlets to give the story the attention it deserved were the Huffington post, an online news blog, and Comedy Central. The Daily Show not only covered the story, but called out major news networks for avoiding it (Daily Show 6 June 2009). It is a travesty that the American people should have to rely on comedy programming to inform them on such crucial issues. It represents a failure by journalists, and reveals serious institutional problems in American media.
There was a very similar situation in the United States before deregulation began to allow media ownership to be concentrated. It was in the seventies, during the Vietnam War. Like Iraq, Vietnam was a bloody and unjust war, founded on false pretenses. A study was commissioned by President Nixon’s administration into historical relationships between the US and Vietnam. The results were a top secret 7,000 page report dubbed the Pentagon Papers (Ellsberg). It was photocopied by Daniel Ellsberg who worked at the Pentagon and the RAND corporation, and then leaked to the New York Times and several other papers (Ellsberg). The newspapers published sections of the Papers, which “demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of every one of their subordinates” (Ellsberg). The newspapers did this knowing that legal prosecution would be brought down on them and Ellsberg. The government did get several injunctions to stop publication, but in the end were not very successful. They also brought charges against Ellsberg, which could have put him in prison for life (Ellsberg). His case ended in a mistrial thanks to the discovery of underhanded tactics on the part of the prosecution.
The point of comparing the reporting of the Intelligence Committee’s report and the pentagon papers is to demonstrate the actions of the press before and after deregulation. The press of today is broken. The Times and other papers risked serious consequences to publish classified documents that had the power to ruin an administration in the 70s. Today, at the height of media concentration, a public report that was even more damning was ignored, even though publishing stories on it would come with no legal consequences. This comes after the patriotic journalism of the post 9/11 era has mostly subsided. The press, as it exists today, is impotent. That impotence is not strictly caused by media concentration; but the concentration of media ownership makes it possible. This is because, as Bishop and Hakanen have shown, content has become less important than profit. It is only in a situation such as this that reports as crucial as the one produced by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee could be overlooked.
But of course, not everyone feels the same way about the concentration of media ownership; if they had the FCC would never have allowed deregulation. So to best understand the position of those that support deregulation, and thus indirectly the concentration of media ownership, one should look right into the belly of the beast; FCC chairmen Michael Powell. The following is an analysis of his press statement in support of the deregulatory measures the FCC attempted to bring in 2002.
Powell says that the FCC will be successful if it completes three goals,
(1) Reinstating legally enforceable broadcast ownership limits that promote diversity, localism and competition … (2) Building modern rules that take proper account of the explosion of new media outlets for news, information and entertainment… (3) Striking a careful balance that does not unduly limit transactions that promote the public interest, while ensuring that no company can monopolize the medium (1)
Powell acknowledges the importance of localism and diversity. He says they must be maintained through modern rules that balance public interest and the economic interest of business, while preventing monopoly. He feels that the FCC’s recommendations, which include an increase in allowable media ownership from 35 percent to 45 percent and a rollback on the newspaper/radio cross ownership rule, struck this appropriate balance. He says that they do this despite public concerns over excessive consolidation (1). What he calls public concerns, Adelstein, a dissenting member of the FCC, calls a near unanimous public outcry (Adelstein 3). Powell claims that rules are being modified and not eliminated (Powell 1), implying that if the rules are not modified the way he wants them to be, they must be eliminated. He says that in the past the FCC has refused to modernize, instead leaving rules to stagnate, which he says will eventually lead to the destruction of the American media market (1). He does not seem to realize that change in the other direction is possible. Powell fails to address the fact that thinkers like Adelstein, Bishop and Hakanen feel the rules in existence are already far too lenient and must be strengthened. He also ignores the fact that a ten percent increase in allowable market share will only strengthen monopolies already in existence. He even goes so far as to use fear tactics, saying “the stakes are perilously high” (1). He speaks about a massive examination of media and media standards, but does not mention the simplistic decision the FCC based its new regulations on. This decision is that new media such as the internet has led to more voices, which means there needs to be less regulation for diversity. Again, Adelstein, Bishop and Hakanen have all demonstrated that more voices do not mean quality and diverse programming. Powell sounds very much like a politician, saying that, “I believe that our actions will advance our diversity and localism goals and maintain a vigorously competitive environment” (2). That statement is the opposite of the real consequences of the proposed changes. There has been a sharp decline in diversity and localism since deregulation started; competition still exists, but only for profit, not quality. Competition, in this case, does not mean diversity, quality and localism, it means homogenization and safe national programs that attract broad audiences and grant lots of advertising revenue. Powell is dead wrong, and totally full of it. As Craig Aaron, a reporter for the Guardian says, “media consolidation is the problem, not the answer” (Craig Aaron). Powell simply represents the institutional failure of the FCC and reveals that the organization needs to be cleaned out and overhauled with new people who put the American public ahead of the interests of corporations.
There is an extremely simple solution to improving the media climate in the United States. The answer is to create more variety in ownership and content by bringing back pre 80s regulations. This must come about to decrease the concentration of media ownership, as that concentration is the spring from which crap journalism and media bubble. It also must be done so that once monopolies are broken up, companies will have to emphasize quality programming instead of for-profit programming. Regulation is not difficult to enact, what is necessary is a change in the minds of the FCC. It needs an overhaul; people like Powell have to be kicked out and new people with a more realistic outlook put in their place. There was obviously a serious problem when the Supreme Court blocked the FCCs proposed changes in 2002, and the problems have only gotten worse. Hopefully the Obama administration will see these problems and bring about change.
There are many specific actions the FCC must take to change the landscape of media ownership in America. Firstly, effective anti-trust laws must be established to prevent monopoly nationally and in individual markets (Baker 171), and to break up current monopolies and near-monopolies. Secondly, government approval must be required for mergers so companies can not get around the anti-trust law (172). There also must be regulation in terms of what mergers the government can allow. Specifically “mergers that increase concentration or invlove takeover by nonmedia firms” (176) must be prevented. Also, cross-ownership regulations must be reintroduced, the cap on media ownership must be lowered back below 35%, and the cap on radio ownership must be recreated, to further weaken the concentration of media.
Finally, governments must require special responsibilities from large firms (186) in the form of content regulation. These responsibilities should include the things which Bishop and Hackanen recommend; a large increase in the minimum requirement for diverse, local, political and public affairs programming with specific requirements for concentration on the public interest (such as requiring media companies to maintain community contacts and report on community issues). These requirements must also ensure that this programming is not relegated to late night and early morning time slots. The fairness doctrine must also be reintroduced, although in a weaker form then the original doctrine. It is needed to increase a diversity of opinion and break up the right- and left-wing dichotomy in US media. But this must be done in updated way which does not force irrationally overbalanced pieces (ie. giving equal time to both non-racists and white supremicists) and which does not steer journalists away from reporting on difficult issues.
It must be remembered that these content regulations are meant to reign in for-profit programming and to increase diversity. They must be limited by the constitution to prevent encroachment on free press. This limit is what makes these regulations much more effective then allowing corporations to govern themselves; the government has to abide by rules, corporations only have to make money. Regulations must be constantly held up to a test that examines their effectiveness in limiting for-profit programming and encouraging a diversity of opinion, localism and public affairs programming. Also, the government must create these regulations while ensuring that editoral freedom remains in the hands of journalists, so as to prevent an undue infringement on free speech. This has worked in the past, and can work again.
Unfortunately, enacting this regulation will not be easy. The fact that the Bush administration was in power for 8 years, despite its unpopularity, constitutional violations and clear incompetence, reveals the incredible power that conservatives and corporations still hold in the United States. Corporations control the media, and deregulation will mean a sharing of capital and a loss of profits. It is difficult to believe that the leaders of industry will support this. But after an unpopular war, an economic crisis, and the revelation of the Bush administration’s crimes, change may be coming. The election of Barrack Obama, a liberal minded democrat and a former human rights lawyer, is certainly a step in the right direction, as is the election of a Democrat majority to both the Senate and Congress. After all, regulation ultimately has to come from the government. But the government will only bring change if it is what the American people want. So change must come from the ground up. It has to come through educated citizens working at grass roots levels. Profit motive makes the corporate controlled media very critical of change in the United States. As such, educated citizens must strike out on their own to find information. The internet is the perfect place for change to start, as it is the form of media most free from the influence of corporate America. Unfortunately it is also full of false information and useless entertainment, so people must be careful what they look for. But a culture of critical thinking will have to develop; hopefully the internet can be the free marketplace that fosters such a culture. The Obama administration already seems to be moving in the right direction by introducing plans to increase funding for education and possibly reintroducing some media regulation, hopefully these initiatives will also help in developing a culture of critical thinking.
In conclusion, the American media system is broken. It is full of poor programming and irresponsible journalism. People are spoonfed easy stories and shows that bring big ratings and big advertising dollars. Localism, diversity and public affairs and political programming are dying and being replaced with national content that has little public importance. These problems can be traced back to one source, deregulation. Deregulation leads to the concentration of media ownership and a concentration on profit over content. These problems have persisted since the deregulation of media ownership and content control in the eighties and nineties. They have led to Phil Donahue getting fired, to a climate of bad, patriotic journalism that helped lead America into an illegal war, and to the biggest story of 2008 being swept under the rug. Media is showing no signs of recovery on its own, and may in fact be getting worse as more deregulation is proposed. Action must be taken by citizens to put pressure on the US government to re-regulate the industry. The FCC has to return to its roots before more irreversible damage is done to American civil society. This is a very difficult and uphill battle. It has all of corporate and most of conservative America against it. But hopefully, for democracy’s sake, a true and just free marketplace of ideas will win out in the end.
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