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The Media Are the Message

Sep 06, 2008
Is the Mainstream Media (MSM) finished? Has consolidation and the bean counters taken us past the point of no return?

  • Item: Before that staunch Democrat Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, conservative Clear Channel owned the maximum number of radio stations allowed: 40. Afterwards, at their peak, they owned nearly 1,200.1
  • Item: Twenty-five years ago, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of the MSM (newspapers, radio, and television). In 2004, that number was down to five.2
  • Item: The number of foreign correspondents, during a period when we desperately needed to know more about the world, dropped from 188 in 2002 to 141 in 2006. Major newspapers such as the Boston Globe and Baltimore Sun have closed all their foreign bureaus.3
  • Item: The administration, as part of what we have termed its Exit Strategy, has proposed cuts to funding for public broadcasting—the most trusted institution among the MSM—4that would slash 56 percent of their annual budget.5
Common Cause, in their recent report,6 identified significant problems with MSM today, including:
  • Consolidation
  • Failure to serve local interests
  • The assault on public broadcasting support
  • Attacks on Net Neutrality
  • An FCC deaf to the voice of the public
  • Flawed transition to digital television
Though on page 2 the reports asserts, “The media cannot play its role effectively unless it is independent from government influence,” we have to wonder whether the opposite is not more the case today. Whether or not the media has undue influence over the government or not, it will require government influence to fix the problems with media.

Newspapers may be purely private endeavors; the airwaves, however, are public, and those who utilize them are required by law to serve the public interest, and not merely the interests of their masters. As the report reminds us, “We have the obligation and authority to regulate the media to encourage it to perform its constitutionally intended role, and we have limits on overregulation that would stifle the role of the media. The trick is to find the right balance. The balance is out of kilter and it is time to assert responsible regulation so that the media can more effectively serve our democracy.” (pp. 2-3)

The report suggests solutions to each of the problems it identifies, and it is at least worth downloading for future reference and for the record it provides of the campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures of 24 major MSM players.

In our view, the MSM is probably beyond redeeming as a public service (where is Ralph Nader, for instance, who is polling 6-8 percent in some places despite a 100 percent MSM blackout?). We need rather to turn our attention to preserving Net Neutrality, already suffering from corporate incursions that threaten the nature and value of this brave new medium. Once Internet service providers (ISPs) obtain the right to charge sites for moving into the fast lane, the Net is dead. That day is at hand, and a McCain presidency will see it implemented.

ISP mega-giants Comcast and Verizon know this very well, and since 2005 it’s been worth a cumulative $75 million to them in campaign contributions and lobbying to make that point to our elected public servants.
____________________
1False Premises, False Promises, by Peter DiCola, Research Director, Future of Music Coalition, December 2006 (Accessed September 1, 2008)
2Media Reform Information Center (Accessed July 26, 2008)
3US media can’t cover the news if they don’t cover the world, by John Hughes, The Christian Science Monitor, February 7, 2007 (Accessed September 1, 2008)
4National Roper Poll Ranks PBS #1 in Public Trust for the Fourth Consecutive Year, PBS Press Release, March 22, 2007 (Accessed September 1, 2008)
5Administration’s budget proposal includes unprecedented cuts for public broadcasting,from Tell Them Public Matters.org, undated (Accessed September 1, 2008)
6Media and Democracy in America Today: A Reform Plan for a New Administration (.pdf) (Accessed September 1, 2008)
tags: Media | Politics | Internet

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