Wednesday, February 22, 2006

America AWARE and Media AWARE

I am very passionate about America and freedom. I’ve spent a lot of my time working on those two projects and I don’t like the direction it is going in right now. Some things are getting better and worst simultaneously which makes it confusing, misleading and sneaky.

I’ve noticed subtle changes and tiny erosions of our freedom that people complain about and then get used to. Sneaky little annoyances that may or may not arouse our suspicions, but nothing overt enough to clue us in that something huge is happening, something sinister that we should be acting on.

I got a very nervous uneasy feeling when Bill Mahr’s Politically Incorrect was abruptly cancelled on ABC. I had the same feeling only stronger when Phil Donahue was dropped from MSNBC right before the Iraq attack. OK now, that’s a network and a cable station. Scary. That’s not the way free speech America is supposed to work. I know I am not the only one who felt the little prickles of fear from this and yet Americans let it go with a sort of shrug of their shoulders.

I love TV! God bless cable! But I hear folks constantly complaining about 200 channels and nothing on. More cable stations but less variety. The same movie on three times back to back or three nights in a row. Why? Because so many stations are in competition only with themselves. And strange things happening in radioland too. Ever try to call a radio station and no one was there? Why? Because so many stations are unmanned, run by computers often from far away cities. Prickle, prickle, prickle.
In 1996 ( sadly on Bill Clinton’s watch) the Federal Communication Commission relaxed the Media Ownership and Consolidation Broadcast Ownership rules.
This scared me really bad. The new regs allowed ownership of more stations and more in one market area.
Conglomerates like Viacom, Disney, AOL Time Warner, and Clear Channel got busy gobbling up stations like Pac Man flying around the maze. When the smoke cleared there were about five ginormous concerns that owned 75% of radio and TV media. Viacom and Clear Channel together controlled 42% of the radio stations and 45% of listeners. Clear Channel grew from 40 stations to 1240.

The results of this 1996 FCC action put democracy at risk.
It limits localism. We all like for our hometown radio and TV stations to have our local flavor and express our community concerns and interests and opinions. But after the when the large and small independent stations become part of a conglomerate network, the local small town Illinois DJ could be broadcasting from somewhere like Atlanta. There is a true story of a town, after a train accident, frantically trying to get emergency info out through the local radio station, but there were no human beings there. Ouch!
It limits media diversity. Women and people of color already owned less than five percent of broadcast media outlets. GLBT and ethnic radio percentages are even less. These stations may change hands, not go away because there is the almighty profit to be had. But, the content will now be filtered through the profit monsters.
IT GETS WORSE. The 1996 assault was not enough for the FCC. In June
2003 it passed again more rules that allow media conglomerates to own a newspaper and multiple television stations, radio stations and cable stations all
in one market. The 3-2 vote instituted
“the most sweeping and destructive rollback of consumer protection rules in the history of American broadcasting”.
This is from FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein who voted against the new regulations.

Imagine a city or region with only one newspaper, two radio stations and one local TV station. Now they can all be owned by one company. So now all their news and slants on everything come from one place. Independent voices will be shut out.
Independent radio or TV station owners will all but disappear because there is no way to compete with the likes of a Viacom or Time Warner. A conglomerate with an agenda, political or otherwise, has the ear of millions across the nation.
Good news! Yayy Americans! Although many people were not aware of the latest or the first FCC attack, Americans did not shrug their shoulders this time. There were protests, letter writing and e-mail campaigns and public hearings.
Then a Philadelphia federal appeals court blocked the new rules while it considered a challenge to them brought by a group of small radio station owners. Yayy Congress! In September 2003 the Senate in a bi-partisan 55-40 vote overturned the FCC rules on broadcast media ownership. In July 2003 the House of Representatives approved a spending bill with blocking the new FCC rules. It was done this way because the Senate did not have the votes to overturn a promised Bush veto. So we are left with the 1996 damage which is considerable but we dodged the 2003 bullet which would have been devastating.

What in the hell was the FCC thinking?? How could they think this is good for the country? I cannot understand their contention that consolidations of stations would inspire more choice. The chairman of the FCC was Michael Powell, yep, Colin’s boy. What’s up with the Powell guys? Certainly intelligent gentlemen, but something is a bit twisted there.
Did Mike see a tremendous profitability thing for his cronies? Does he just enjoy the art of the Power Play? Are they going for mind control of the American population? Scary.

Imagine dwindling hundreds of independent stations, a free marketplace of ideas, down to five. Five slants, spins, worldviews sweeping entire areas of this nation.
Keep your eyes on the shiny object. Are we getting sleepy?

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