McChesney Nails It: the Process, Deception and Stakes of Media “Deregulation”

Communications Scholar and Activist Robert McChesney has put forth an abosutely clear, complete and concise run-down of the history and stakes of the FCC’s current media ownership rules review. In just one article he knocks home many of the issues and ideas that I’ve been trying to get at here on mediageek for the last nine months.

Some choice bits:

“The 1996 Telecom Act was a corrupt piece of work, being the product of the largest corporate lobbies all salivating at the prospect of rewriting the law to provide them a larger slice of the action. … The public played no role in the Telecom Act, and it received virtually no news media coverage, except in the business and trade press where it was covered as an issue of importance to owners and investors, not citizens in a democracy. The powerful lobbies–much like Roth and Corleone–were duking it out with each other for the largest slice of the cake, but they all agreed that the public had no right to participate in the process. ”

“This process is often referred to as “deregulation,” but it is nothing of the kind. The framing of the issue as one of “regulation” versus “deregulation” or “free markets” is ideologically loaded propaganda that obscures what is happening in toto. When media ownership rules are eliminated, there is still plenty of regulation. If you or I persist in trying to broadcast on a frequency licensed to Clear Channel, we will be arrested and sent to prison. That is serious regulation. Regulation is going to exist no matter what. ”

“Two of the five members of the FCC have shown themselves to be remarkable public servants, of a caliber found on the FCC perhaps only three or four other times in its 69 year history. This was a fluke. The two members, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, were patronage appointments to fill the two Democratic slots on the five member FCC. It just so happened that they had a degree of backbone rarely found in that far from august body.”

“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this has nothing to do with free markets or a free press, but that it is all about cronyism and corruption. The massive media firms that have bankrolled and supported the Bush administration want their payback and the administration is determined to give it to them, the public be damned.”

I’ve been railing against the term “deregulation” for a while now, since, just as McChesney points out, it’s a completely loaded and misleading term. I prefer to call it “reregulation,” because that’s what it is. The regulations aren’t taken away, just changed. The beneficiaries are different — in the current context the public’s interest is eschewed for the corporate media interest — but it is all regulation that holds it in place.

As I blogged on Aug. 28 last year:

The communications industry is scared of nothing more than a free market. A free market would decimate the local bell monopolies, would kill cable companies, and would decimate the broadcast industry. Every single one of these industries absolutely relies on the federal government to stake out boundaries and territories, allowing only a few to have such prizes as broadcast licenses, while keeping the millions of would-be competitors out. The last thing any commercial FM wants is for the FM band to double or triple in size letting a hundred more competitors onto the airwaves. Man, they need regulation to keep raking in those monopoly profits.

But, unfortunately for the industry, regulation is also occasionally a tool for reigning in corporate power or for pursuing something resembling the public interest. It’s these pesky regulations they’d love to do away with — but without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Don’t get fooled by the “free market” and deregulatory rhetoric. It’s bullshit. The plan is to simply hand over power currently held by government directly to industry, but still in the name of government — call it FCC Inc. Michael Powell, CEO.

If you’re interested in hearing a little more of McChesney’s insights, you can hear him–along with The Progressive Magazine’s editor Matthew Rothschild–on the April 18 edition of the mediageek radioshow.

(thanks to for bringing this article to my attention)






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