By Martin Bosworth
Earlier this week the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to relax rules against cross-ownership of different media outlets in the same region. Basically, this means that a media conglomerate can own all the outlets for information in an area–a TV station, radio station, and newspaper–without any competition.
It’s been fairly widely known that this was a goal of current FCC chair Kevin Martin for some time–a corporatist who has been generally laissez-faire towards every aspect of consolidation of media (except for the cable industry), Martin never met a merger or buyout he didn’t like. What was not widely known, but should come as no surprise, is that the FCC vote had the full support of the Bush regime. From my article:
Martin, however, has the backing of the White House to pursue the media consolidation changes. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez wrote Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warning him that the Bush administration would fight any “attempt to delay or overturn these revised rules by legislative means.” Martin, a former Bush campaign operative whose wife Cathie has worked for both Bush and Vice-President , has aggressively pursued a conservative, free-market agenda since succeeding Michael Powell to become FCC chair in 2005.
Gutierrez wouldn’t tip the White House’s hand like that unless he was sure this was a signal they wanted to send–that the Bush/Cheney brigade is firmly in favor of what purports to be a massive corporate welfare giveaway to big media companies:
To stop a merger in the top 20 markets under Martinâ€™s scheme, the burden of proof would rest with those opposing the deal. They would have to show that the proposed combination didnâ€™t meet these criteria. Outside the top 20 markets, the burden of proof would rest with a companyâ€™s lawyers, but the companies would control all the information and could make promises that would be almost impossible to enforce. Average citizens donâ€™t have the resources to prove whether companies will increase news a little bit, and they would have a hard time accounting for claims of â€œfinancial distress. “
This naked power grab by the corporatist wing of the Bush administration even has many Republicans cringing–so much so that they have joined forces with Democrats to push legislation opposing the new rules until more study is made of their potential effects. In the House, Dave Reichert (no friend to the netroots or progressives) is joining Jay Inslee (who co-sponsored legislation to protect Internet radio) to block the new rules from taking effect. Twenty-five Senators wrote Martin imploring him to reconsider his decision, and it’s a rare day when you can see Ted “Tubes” Stevens and Russ Feingold agreeing on a damn thing. Byron Dorgan, another signer, has his own Senate bill pending that commands support from the odd couple of Barack Obama and Trent Lott.
Let’s pause a moment to consider this. When Trent Lott and Ted Stevens are opposing your plan, you may want to consider a reassessment. It’s also worth noting that the Senate letter was signed by all four Democrats running for President–Biden, Clinton, Dodd, and Obama–indicating that this is an issue that’s not going to fade in the primary battles.
Kevin Martin has used every Christmas since his appointment to run through decisions that would benefit big corporations at the public expense–last year was the megamerger of AT&T and BellSouth, and this year it’s the consolidation rule. He, like Bush, knows he has limited time left in his role before a new administration takes over, and wants to ensure as many giveaways as he can before he’s booted.
But the public interest and the need for free, diverse, and competitive information flow should not be held hostage to the political whims of a guy like Martin. The Internet is a viable alternative to typical news outlets, but it shouldn’t be the only alternative–and keep in mind, the same corporate titans who want control of television and newspapers break bread with those who want control of the Web. A diverse, powerful, and competitive local media is essential to an informed, aware, and active populace–and if you believe that “all politics is local,” you need that for real change to ever take place.
Sign the petition to support Congress’ efforts to protect diverse local media, and deliver a nice lump of coal to the stockings of Bush, Cheney, and Martin this holiday season. Then tell your friends!