Home______Manufacturing Consent, II: Gatekeepers & Democracy

Should the big media conglomerates be allowed to control more television and radio stations and why should we care? To understand the importance of this question, first read the 21 February article below, The Manufacture of Consent. Something is happening today, and it threatens the very foundations of democracy as we know it.

These are by no means idle observations:
  • As US citizens, we own the air waves. We pay the taxes for them. Has anybody asked us?
  • We own the bandwidth on which broadcast media deliver programs to TV and radios. Maybe some of us haven't thought about it that way, but it is true.

    The FCC, or Federal Communications Commmission, is supposedly our watchdog as to who gets access to bandwidth. The FCC was created as our eyes and ears. It is presently headed by Michael Powell, son of Colin. I have respect for Michael's father.

    For over 60 years, the FCC allowed companies to own a number of local TV stations, with the reservation that none of them could reach more than 35 percent of US population.

    Something happened on 2 June 2003. On that date, with Michael Powell's decision, the FCC raised the limit to 45 percent, which allowed media giants to gobble up more local TV stations. A single corporation can control up to three television stations in the largest nine cities.

    Not only that, the FCC allowed local mergers of TV with newspapers. Thus our news and information would come from the same company, whether we flick on the TV or open the paper.

    The FCC ruling is being challenged in the courts, but keep your fingers crossed.

    The National Rifle Association, the National Organization for Women, and many others have spoken out against the FCC decision. Over 750,000 Americans of all political stripes registered their opinion with the FCC, nearly 100% opposed. Clearly, this is not a Republican versus Democrat issue.

    Before the FCC ruling, control of local media had already become monolithic, reducing information diversity, limiting opinion, stereotyping entertainment. Local or interesting coverage is replaced by mass-marketing that appeals to the lowest common denominator. I shudder to think of what will happen if the FCC ruling is implemented.

    But don't cable TV and the Internet give people more sources of information? In theory, yes. In practice, no. Big media firms own most of the cable networks and supply much of the content for major Internet sites.

    Now let me ask a question. Although the issue is vitally important to every citizen, how come we have heard so little about this?

    Because the lack of diversity and independence in broadcast media already limits what information we receive. This is a whoppingly big issue and it was played down by the media conglomerates, the major TV networks and newspapers, the very people who stand to profit if we don't know about it.

    As a lone voice on the FCC put it, "At issue is whether a few corporations will be ceded enhanced gatekeeper control over the civil dialogue of our country; more content control over our music, entertainment and information, and veto power over the majority of what our families watch, hear and read." (Michael Copps)

    As for the court challenge to the FCC, here is 8 February information:

    "A contest much bigger than the Super Bowl will take place this month in Philadelphia. A federal appeals court will hear a lawsuit trying to stop the Federal Communications Commission from allowing more media deregulation."

    "One of the main players will be Viacom, a broadcast giant that lists among its properties CBS, MTV and Infinity radio. How big is Viacom? Consider that the Super Bowl was telecast on CBS. The halftime show, featuring Justin Timberlake exposing Janet Jackson's breast, was produced by MTV. Records by Timberlake and Jackson are played on Infinity radio stations. "

    " This is the way media works in America. Deregulation has given a handful of corporations all-consuming power over what we see and hear. Those media companies also set broadcast standards, which, if you saw the halftime show, can't get much lower. "

    " ' What happened at the Super Bowl is a consequence of the FCC and (Chairman) Michael Powell easing the rules of ownership limits, ' said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington D.C. ' Big companies get more properties and embrace cheap and offensive programming aimed at the lowest common denominator '." From Reclaim The Media.

    (See The Manufacture of Consent, Part One, directly below, and The Manufacture of Consent, Part Three, 6 March 2004.)


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