MEDIA REFORM – IT’S GOOD FOR DEMOCRACY
Media consolidation has been rampant since the 1996 Telecommunications Act was passed. Before this legislation lifted caps on ownership, no single radio corporation could hold more than 65 stations. Today, for example, Clear Channel Communications controls close to 1500. Without caps, these radio conglomerates continue to steamroll local radio, buying up independent outlets, and scrubbing politically divergent commentary from the air.
Boston is a prima facie example. In Dec. 2006, we learned, without warning, that our only progressive talk station was taken down by Clear Channel. So, who owns the media and why is this important for Democracy and, in particular, Democrats?
Radio networks by and large are owned by conservative corporations like: Walt Disney/ABC Radio -72; Clear Channel -1500; and News Corp (Fox). These corporations gain immense influence over what information is made available. As consolidated corporations, they are able to stifle viewpoints, spin the information, and narrow the range of debate nationwide. It is well known that talking points are faxed to conservative radio talk hosts. The networks are not only concerned with profits but with advancing the “right” agenda. Corporate interests are inconsistent with the fair and balanced broadcasting conditions set forth in their FCC license. Moreover, this”public interest” trusteeship is successfully ignored without any accountability.
In 1951, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said, “Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us”. If radio networks are owned by ultra-conservative groups or corporations that make concerted efforts to restrict programming and limit political viewpoints, then Democracy suffers. To emphasize this point note the enormous disparity between conservative vs. progressive talk radio. During an average week, there are 43,000 hours of conservative talk compared to 3,000 hours of progressive talk programming. 95% of talk radio is conservative. In Boston alone, the line-up of conservative talk programming is staggering, i.e. Rush, Carr, Savage, Severin, Hannity, etc. with no “Truth to Power” progressives to ameliorate the problem. This is not good for Democracy or Democratic efforts to move their important agenda: the Iraq war; healthcare, counting all votes; and so on.
This it is not because progressive talk isn’t successful or in demand. In 2006, it grew by 36% overall and skyrocketed in markets where it was allowed on air, given a decent signal, and afforded some reasonable marketing efforts. But that’s a story for another time. The time has come for Congress to take a long look at the massive, unrestricted consolidation of radio during the last ten years.
No one is predicting the imminent collapse of “Big Media” but the fight may be easier now that Congress is controlled by Democrats. In particular, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) will be in a key position, as Chair of the Telecommunications Committee, along with Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who has proposed the Media Ownership Reform Act, to hold hearings. In the Senate, Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders, longtime allies of media reform, are ready to use newly won seats to help with legislation to advance the reform efforts. These are the important Congressional delegates to contact to express any support for reform.
A grassroots effort has been started in Massachusetts by progressive Democrats. The group, Save_Progressive_Radio_Boston on Yahoo, has three main goals at this time: initiate a public awareness campaign and signature petition at www.bostonprogressivetalk.net; lobby the General Manager of Clear Channel-Boston with email, letters, and calls to reconsider his “business’ decision and bring back our talk radio format; and, identify potential new advertisers for progressive talk radio.
The group is making an appeal to all Massachusetts Democrats to stand up for our political voice and let your preferences be known to Clear Channel. The contact information is:
99 Revere Beach Pkwy.
Medford, MA 02155
Thank you, Pat O’Leary