The Road To Media Serfdom
At the National Conference for Media Reform that my fellow contributor Doug touched on earlier, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps spoke. During his speech, he outlined an agenda that he called The New American Media Contract. The rationale he follows is that the American people own the airwaves and there is:
Too little news, too much baloney passed off as news. Too little quality
entertainment, too many people eating bugs on reality TV. Too little local and regional
music, too much brain-numbing national play-lists. Too little of America, too much of
Wall Street and Madison Avenue. That’s what we get for half a trillion dollars. It’s one
hell of a bad bargain, don’t you think?
What Mr. Copps doesn’t understand apparently is that the viewer or listener has a choice not to listen or watch those things he describes. But, he’s a government bureaucrat so he has to come up with a five point plan to solve this outrage of media catering to the consumers’ demand.
First, let’s make sure the FCC backs off any further loosening of the
few media ownership protections we still have. This is not the time for more duopolies,
triopolies and sweetheart newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership deals that strangle
localism, diversity and competition.
In other words, if we think your company owns too much of the airwaves (nevermind things like cable and satellite) and newspapers, we’ll break your company up. Why, we’re the government and we can. Oh and we’ll make sure we’re going to have a precence in every market via NPR and PBS.
Second, let’s make FCC license approval and renewal into more than a paper
tiger. That means enforcing the American Media Contract every time a media company
comes in to renew a license or get a new one. No more postcard license renewals—but
instead a requirement for license-holders to prove they are fulfilling the Contract.
This will kill political speech in the mainstream media, and possibly the Internet. I point to the threat by the Democrats in late 2006 to revoke ABC’s license over the movie The Path To 9/11 which had some criticism of Bill Clinton’s terrorism record as an example. The media will be afraid to criticize the government for fear of losing their license.
Third, give minorities a seat at the media table. Wait a minute—seat at the table?
Why can’t they own the table? Thirty per cent of our population cannot be consigned to
owning three per cent of our broadcast outlets—not unless we want another century of
equal opportunity sham and shame.
Another words, affirmative action for media ownership, to be enforced by the redistribution of property to comply.
Fourth, expand the number of media outlets in each community. That means
more support for Low Power, PEG programmers and community wireless—movements
that defend the last bastions of localism as Big Media marches toward one-size-fits-all
national programming and distribution.
To be taken and run by government. Now this is a violation of the principles of the First Amendment because this can be used again to muzzle speech government disapproves of.
Fifth, protect new forms of media from the awful consolidation that ensnared
traditional media. The Internet can be truly transformative—or it can become another
network monopoly. Does everyone here tonight support Network Neutrality?
Why should the companies that developed the Internet not be allowed to profit off their creation?
If the New American Media Contract is adopted by the new Democratic Congress, this will result in a chilling effect for free speech as the threat of government revoking the license of stations and Internet providers who allow speech it doesn’t like. The real solution is to privatize the airwaves and restrict the FCC’s power to only making sure the stations stay on their assigned frequencies and channels.