I haven’t blogged much about the ongoing media consolidation debate recently because it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere new, different or interesting. Yes, it’s still important but mostly it’s the same refrain: FCC Democrats Copps and Adelstein keep going to public hearings and advocating for more restraint; FCC Chairman Powell says he already has all the public input he needs and he’s ready to plow forward. Then, every week or so a new commentator or interest group weighs in to urge the FCC to slow down and not to let the media barons take it all. For instance, today a bunch of well-known musicians sent a letter to Powell urging him not to give away the store.
The most positive recent turn of events is that the issue is slowly leaking into the mainstream news arena. The issue of media ownership has gotten consistent press since last Fall, but it’s always in the business pages, and almost never on TV or radio, so it might as well not exist for the average American. By and large, the mainstream media treats it as a business issue, handled by reporters who cover the media business, not as a political and democratic issue.
But it seems like the regional hearings that are going on bring the topic to the front page of local papers in the cities hosting the hearings. Local events that have national significance seem to elevate issues for newspaper editors. And that’s a tremendously good thing. Even better, local hearings also bring TV coverage, which is probably most responsible for getting the issue onto people’s radars.
Even this morning, NPR’s Morning Edition did a piece on the musicians’ letter to Powell. Even though NPR may not reach a truly mainstream audience, such a piece arguably hits more people than a story on page 4 of the New York Times Business section.
Unfortunately, my biggest fear is that this coverage and attention is too late to do any good. The FCC’s public comment period is long over, and Powell is prepared to push the FCC hard and fast to wrap up its media ownership rules review by its self-imposed June deadline. Although the FCC’s two Democrats are clearly on the side of the public interest, that’s not enough to stop a speeding train.
There does seem to be some hope in getting more members of Congress sticking their nose into the issue. That’s where greater public awareness becomes important. Congresspeople listen to the their constituents, and they really listen to the front page of their local newspapers. It is still Congress that makes the laws and sets the funding for the likes of the FCC, so there is the possibility that influential congresspeople, like the Senate Commerce Committee, could put some major pressure on the FCC to ratchet down it’s deregulatory orgy.
Even better, Congress can rewrite laws making it easier for the FCC to keep and defend its media ownership rules in the first place. Keep in mind that it is the Congressionally drafted and passed Telecomm Act of 1996 that mandated this ownership rules review in the first place, not to mention putting the ownership deregulation ball in motion.
The real test is whether Congress can be convinced to actually do anything. Sure, they can talk up a storm, grill FCC Commissioners in committee, put out press releases and send letters to Powell. But when push comes to shove, the only thing that makes a difference is legislation, and if Congress won’t change it or write new ones, then not a goddamn thing will change.
So, let’s say that I’m not terrifically optimistic, even if I know there’s still some hope that Rupert Murdoch and Clear Channel can be held back a bit in their quest to own every damn media property.
In the end, though, I can’t help but think that we’re just begging and groveling to hold on the last few crumbs. And I fucking hate to be in that position. I keep thinking that there has to be something more than lobbying the FCC and Congress not to take away our daily gruel after they’ve already thrown us from our homes and stripped us naked.
We need to take it back. We need a radical media call to arms. And, that, my friends, is where I’m blogging next.