Who Hijacked Our Country

Monday, October 11, 2004

Anybody home at the FCC?

Just when you thought a few TV and radio monoliths already had as much consolidated power as anyone could possibly have, it gets even worse.

First, a major radio executive throws a tantrum because the Dixie Chicks made a snide remark about George W. Bush and -- poof! -- the Dixie Chicks are suddenly banned from hundreds of radio stations around the country. Now, Sinclair Broadcast Group of Maryland (I know, I never heard of them either before today, but you'll be hearing their name in the news a lot during the next few weeks) is forcing all 62 of its TV stations across the country to air -- without commercials! -- an anti-Kerry "documentary," just 2 weeks before the election. And, conveniently, some of these TV stations happen to be located in some of the most tense and frenetic of the "battleground" states (those few states where it's anybody's guess whether Bush or Kerry is ahead).

In case you're thinking that Sinclair Broadcasting simply wants to have a political dialogue -- last April they ordered all of their stations not to broadcast a "Nightline" episode featuring the reading of the names of all US soldiers killed in Iraq, because it was "contrary to the public interest."

Now, the public airwaves are supposed to be just that. Public. Not the personal fiefdom of a few billionaires.

The Federal Communications Commision has decided, over the past few years (with the help of the Bush-appointed Michael Powell -- yes, it's Colin's son) that there just hasn't been quite enough power and wealth concentrated in the hands of few enough media executives. Kind of like Marie Antoinette deciding that the Nobility doesn't have enough servants and there are too many stale bread crusts for those wretched poor people to be fighting over.

The FCC is a 5-member board (with many many staff members, etc.) which generally does God-knows-what during its "work" day. When it comes to regulating any kind of fairness or competition betweeen TV/Radio/Newspapers, it goes into a coma that would make a grizzly bear's winter hibernation look like a hyperkinetic 5-year-old at a jungle gym. But, once in awhile something shocking comes along (e.g., Janet Jackson baring her breast during the Superbowl, or Howard Stern making a raunchy joke on the air) that brings this sleeping dinosaur out of its coma.

So far there's no evidence that something "minor" like the hijacking of our public airwaves by a few billionaires will rouse the FCC out of its stupor, but just maybe.........

For the casual listener/viewer, the most conspicuous manifestation of this media monopoly is in your typical TV and radio fare. A quality TV drama or a clever comedy goes off the air to make room for yet another "reality" show. You turn on the radio -- any station, it doesn't matter -- and it's the same 12 songs played over and over and over ..............

As irritating as the above scenario is every day for millions of us, it's even more serious when the democratic process itself is thwarted by the whims and tantrums of a few media executives. What do we have to do to get the FCC to give a tiny portion of the "public" airwaves back to the public? Who knows -- maybe we could trick them and tell them the increased deregulation of the airwaves makes it more likely to see a bare breast on live TV, or that the further concentration of media ownership in the hands of fewer billionaires will result in ghastly 4-letter-words from Howard Stern.

Lawsuits are expected to be filed (monopoly charges, equal time, etc.) but is there enough time, with the crockumentary -- er, I mean documentary -- scheduled any day now and the election just 3 weeks away?

Let's hear from you.


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