Change At FCC And Congress: Good News For Media Reform

The signature slogan for the 2008 campaign season was a single word that can spark a thousand interpretations: CHANGE! [It narrowly beat out “Maverick” and “You Betcha”] And change there will be.

This week, something happened in the House of Representatives that is almost unheard of. The sacred principle of seniority was set aside when Henry Waxman of California booted John Dingell of Michigan from the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell had been chairing the committee since the flood of Noah, and through most of his tenure he was a friend to the industries over which he had jurisdiction. Waxman, on the hand, is known for his work on the Government Oversight Committee as a bulldog who kept a close watch on the people’s interests. He held numerous hearings to investigate corporate abuse, greed, and corruption.

Since the FCC falls within the Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction, there is good reason to assume that Waxman will put them on a short leash. He is an advocate of Network Neutrality and strict enforcement of anti-trust law. He has been deeply involved with environmental and healthcare issues for many years and will likely want to focus on those matters. Consequently, he may leave a lot of the media-related heavy lifting to Ed Markey, chair of the Telecom subcommittee. Markey is an ally who’s views and priorities are in sync with Waxman.

Combine these adjustments in the House with news that the Senate Commerce Committee is undergoing its own upheaval and there is real hope for reform. Jay Rockefeller will be taking the gavel from Daniel Inouye, another old-time industry bull. Rockefeller is far more likely to support initiatives for far-sighted projects like universal broadband (making the Internet more like a utility that is available to everyone). He will get help from Sen. Byron Dorgan, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, who has sponsored legislation to reduce the number of television stations and newspapers that a corporation can own.

In addition to these leaders in Congress, the makeup of the FCC is going to change as well. Barack Obama has gotten off to good start by naming a couple of knowledgeable and forward-looking academics to lead his Transition Team: Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach. He has also tapped Julius Genachowski and Blair Levin, both top aides to former FCC chairman Reed Hundt, as advisors. One of them may turn out to be the new FCC chair. And given Obama’s own statements on the media, there is more potential for positive developments in the next eight months than there has been in the past eight years. Here is an excerpt from the Technology statement on his website:

“As president, Obama will encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum.”

There is much to be done to recover from the past few years of regressive policy and obedience to corporate domination. But this is as promising a beginning as one can expect. It is now up to the new administration to follow through, and an active citizenry to be vigilant and vocal.

The FCC Probes Pentagon Propaganda Program – Finally

“World War Three will be a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” ~ Marshall McLuhan, 1968

The FCC is finally beginning to take some action on perhaps the most egregious propaganda assault ever directed at the American people by their own government. From the International Herald Tribune/AP:

“The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday said it is investigating whether five television networks and 19 former military officers violated government disclosure rules in providing on-air analysis of the war in Iraq and other issues.”

It’s about time! The FCC is only now getting around to reacting to reports, originally published in the New York Times last April, that the Pentagon was actively engaging in possibly unlawful activity wherein they supplied supposedly retired military spokespersons to the media who were in fact trained and deployed to promote views favoring the Bush administration’s conduct of the war in Iraq.

Even worse, these unethical officers were simultaneously employed by defense contractors and received financial gain as a result of their brazen propagandizing. It was further disclosed in the Times that many of these spokespersons provided commentary they knew was false in order to protect either their access to the media or their profits. Was that their idea of supporting the troops?

When revealed, the Pentagon acknowledged the potential conflicts and announced that they would temporarily suspend the program “pending further review.” Barack Obama released a public statement saying that he:

“…is deeply disturbed by this latest evidence that the Bush Administration has sought to manipulate the public’s trust. From its misleading case to go to war with a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, to its argument for keeping our troops in Iraq indefinitely, the Administration has depended on spin because its assertions have not been supported by facts.”

More than 150 retired officers participated in this program, and most of them worked for – you guessed it – Fox News. However, letters sent by the FCC have only been received by CBS and ABC so far. None of the networks have commented on the investigation.

Another prominent figure who has not commented is John McCain, despite the fact that this issue directly impacts the welfare of American soldiers in harm’s way. McCain, of course, has been as vigorous a defender of the administration’s specious war policy as the lying Pentagon mouthpieces that hyped it. And he’s been just as honest as well.

McCain’s silence on this issue is further evidence of the hypocrisy and disingenuousness of his alleged support for soldiers and veterans. It should surprise no one that the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave McCain a “D” for his voting record on veterans issues (Obama got a “B”).

Whether the FCC will conduct a fair and comprehensive inquiry under Republican hack Chairman Kevin Martin is uncertain at this time. But commissioners Copps and Adelstein will do their best to make this a productive investigation. And there is a likelihood that the process will extend into the next (Obama) administration and an FCC with a new Democratic majority.

Junk News Gets FCC Seal Of Approval

Junk NewsTelevision news has taken criticism from every direction imaginable. It is accused of being too far left, or too far right, or too shallow, or too consumed with profit, etc.

Now the Federal Communications Commission has settled the argument. Television news is too newsy. The FCC’s latest satire-defying ruling has declared that the gossip-mongers at TMZ, and the God-casters at Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, are “bona fide” news providers. In arriving at that ruling, the Commissioners had to conclude that there would be no overt political partisanship in the news content from these parties.

The significance of this ruling is that the broadcast licensees of these programs will not have to comply with political equal-time requirements. In the case of TMZ, the licensees are the stations in the Fox Television Station group owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The 700 Club, of course, is openly partisan and is controlled and hosted by a former Republican candidate for president. So obviously the FCC found that there was no risk of political favoritism from these notorious right-wing entities.

Perhaps the most embarrassing revelation in this story is that the FCC justified the ruling by citing Entertainment Tonight as a precedent. Apparently the standard for newscaster bona fides is that they cover:

“…some area of current events, in a manner similar to more traditional newscasts.”

More traditional newscasts like Entertainment Tonight? This is the modern media measure for newsworthiness. And this why the legacy news networks have all taken to emulating ET. It is why Lindsay Lohan leads the evening news broadcast even when soldiers are fighting and dying in Iraq. It is why Rev. Wright dominates the news cycle even when the economy falters and thousands of Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure.

It may seem ludicrous that the FCC would grant newscaster status to TMZ and the 700 Club, but the real joke is that, by contemporary standards, they deserve it.

The FCC’s Big Media Welfare Act Of 2007

Tell the FCC: Stop Big MediaAs expected, the Politburo, oops, I mean the FCC voted today to loosen ownership regulations, providing Big Media the opportunity to get even bigger. They split 3 to 2 along party lines with Republicans following their Chairman, Kevin Martin.

Prior to the vote, 26 senators signed a letter to Martin asking that he delay the vote until more research had been done to ascertain the impact of the proposed regs on local media and diversity. They advised the Commission that if the regs were passed that Congress would “immediately move legislation that will revoke and nullify the proposed rule.” Amongst the signers were conservative Republicans like Trent Lott and Ted Stevens.

Despite the warning, the FCC’s Republican majority rammed through the regs showing overt contempt for Congress and the thousands of citizens who attended public hearings to object to Martin’s give-away to the giant media monopolies. Now we must send an unambiguous response to Martin and his cronies. We must reinforce the support we’ve received so far from Congress. It is safe to assume that, even if Congress passes a bill to revoke these rules, the President will not sign it. So we must make sure that we have a veto-proof vote.

This all starts by communicating with our representatives to let them know that we are paying attention and that we will not retreat from this battle. Go to FreePress and sign their “Open Letter to Congress” and then tell your friends to do the same. We beat them before and we can do it again, but it will take the participation of every one of us.

A Steady Diet Of Junk News

Are you happy with the menu of calorie-free entrees dished up Big Media? Do you find endless stories about drunken heiresses and celebrities satisfying? Is being kept uninformed about major issues that actually have an impact on your life acceptable?

If so, you are probably thrilled with state of modern media. Forty-six years ago Newton Minow, former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, referred to the media as a “vast wasteland.” Were he here today he might consider the contamination so irreversibly toxic that it would qualify as a Superfund site (bet you didn’t know that the EPA has a program for Contaminated Media).

In the same speech, Minow decried the parade of poor programming that littered the television landscape:

“You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom.”

Aside from the decline of westerns in TV’s civilization, nothing has changed. Some marketers argue that the networks are just giving the people what they want and that the ratings for their low-brow fare are proof of their success. But ratings only measure which of the programs that were provided were watched. They do not measure what might have been watched if something better were provided. What’s more, ratings are not an indicator of quality. If they were, McDonald’s would have to be considered the highest quality food in the country. In fact, this is an area where TV and McDonald’s have something in common. As I wrote in Starve The Beast, they both have…

“…the cheapest crap that is loaded with filler and seasoning to appeal to the largest number of consumers with the least sophisticated taste.”

Kevin Martin, the current Chairman of the FCC isn’t fit to sniff Minow’s shoes (as much as he might like to). He is an unapologetic representative of the mega-corporations that presently dominate the media. He has consistently placed corporate interests above the public interest and now he is trying to rush through a vote on industry-friendly media ownership regulations that are opposed by a majority of the Senate Commerce Committee as well as the public.

Stop Big Media, an affiliate of FreePress, has produced a hilarious and frightening video that illustrates just how low journalistic standards in media have fallen in an era that has been defined by rapid consolidation. If Martin gets his way it will only get worse.

We, the people need to be heard about this – NOW. Martin has made it clear that he doesn’t care what the public wants, so it is now up to our representatives in Congress. FreePress has a simple form you can use to contact your senators. USE IT! And do so quickly because the FCC is voting December 18, which is this coming Tuesday.

FCC Bends Over Backwards For Big Media

The Federal Communications Commission has granted the Tribune Company the waiver it sought to continue operating the newspapers and television stations it owns in the same market. The waiver is required due to a regulation that forbids such cross-ownership. But the decision that produced the waiver was Machiavellian in the extreme.

Rather than grant the waiver outright, FCC chair Kevin Martin and his Republican colleagues actually denied Tribune’s request for an indefinite waiver, while granting a permanent waiver for Tribune’s properties in Chicago. This scheme allows Tribune to move forward with its acquisition by Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell without jeopardizing its present newspaper and TV operations. It also allows Tribune to challenge the indefinite waiver denial in court, which itself triggers a two year waiver for all of Tribune’s properties in five markets nationwide. Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps dissented from this opinion saying:

“If this order were a newspaper, the banner headline would read ‘FCC majority uses legal subterfuge to push for total elimination of cross-ownership ban.’ I have to admit, part of me admires the clever legal maneuvering […] Tribune gets at least a two-year waiver, plus the ability to go to court immediately and see if they can get the entire rule thrown out.”

Tribune filed court papers objecting to the FCC decision within days of its issuance, almost as if they were prepared in advance of the decision. What a surprise. And all of this is occurring as Martin is being scrutinized by Congress for alleged abuse of power. Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell expressed concern that the FCC had not made drafts of proposed rules available to the public before they were voted on, and that Martin routinely withheld details of proposals from other commissioners until it was too late for them to be fully analyzed. In addition, Martin has favored data from outside firms that support his biases even when that data was contradicted by the agency’s own statistics.

Martin is as corrupt in his role as his predecessor, Michael Powell. In case after case he has advocated for the interests of Big Media over the public interest. And he now shows that he is unconcerned with maintaining even the perception of propriety.

Stop Big Media – Support Dorgan/Lott

The FCC’s proposed new rules aimed at advancing the interests of Big Media conglomerates, and permitting them to get even bigger and more powerful, now face a legislative hurdle courtesy of Senators Byron Dorgan and Trent Lott. The bill will force the FCC to move forward with localism and diversity initiatives and to give the public at least 90 days to review the new rules that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wants to adopt.

The legislation is being introduced to keep Martin from rushing through regulations favorable to his corporate benefactors. Dorgan and Lott deserve credit for serving the interests of the public. A new poll illustrates precisely where the public stands on the matter of media consolidation.

“The survey found 57 percent of respondents favored laws against a company owning a paper and TV station in the same market. That level of support was roughly the same among the political liberals, moderates and conservatives surveyed […] The survey also showed 70 percent of respondents described media consolidation as a problem.”

This fight is a replay of one that the people thought they had won in 2003, when 3 million citizens forced the Congress to rollback regs rammed through by then FCC Chair Michael Powell. They were backed up by the courts who ordered the regs to be withdrawn and revised. Now we have to assert our will again as the same powerful interests attempt to write their own ticket.

And once again FreePress.net is leading the fight for media reform, independence and diversity. Visit their site to add your voice to those already speaking out against this power grab by Martin and the Corporate Media. Your message will be forwarded to the FCC and your representatives in Congress. And you can send your friends and family links to this vital information so that they can do the same.

The contact page is at Stop Big Media.

Don’t put it off. Martin and his masters are trying to push there agenda through before Christmas.

John Edwards’ Letter To The FCC

Responding to the FCC’s proposed new rules for media ownership, John Edwards has written a letter addressed to Commission chairman Kevin Martin. Like his predecessor Michael Powell (Colin’s boy), Martin has drafted a set of rules aimed at advancing the interests of Big Media conglomerates and permitting them to get even bigger and more powerful. Powell’s initiative was halted by over three million Americans rising up to oppose the media’s power play and now we have to do it all over again.

The letter Edwards sent is a great way to reignite this fire. Edwards is showing the sort of leadership that is in short supply in Washington. He is the only candidate of either party to speak so forcefully on behalf of a diverse and independent media.

Some excerpts:

“I urge you to cease your efforts to radically rewrite the rules preventing excessive media consolidation. You and your fellow commissioners have the responsibility to ensure that our nation’s media is open, democratic and as diverse as the American people, and not – like too much of our economy and our political system today – dominated by the wealthiest Americans, large corporations and their lobbyists.”

“The result of all this over-concentration, Mr. Chairman, is a poorer democracy, with a few loud corporate voices drowning out independent perspectives and local participation.”

“High levels of media consolidation threaten free speech, they tilt the public dialogue towards corporate priorities and away from local concerns, and they make it increasingly difficult for women and people of color to own meaningful stakes in our nation’s media.”

This is the kind of courageous and principled action that we ought to be getting from all of our candidates and representatives. Who do they think they are representing anyway? It certainly is not the people if they continue to act on behalf of giant multinational corporations that are only interested in their own wealth and power.

John Edwards deserves a lot of credit for getting in front of this train. The media is quite capable of ruining the reputation and electoral prospects of candidates they oppose or fear – just ask Howard Dean. I urge everyone to reward Edwards with support, donations, or just a few kind words of appreciation. But it is just as important to let the other primary candidates and current members of Congress hear from us about this. We must flood their email boxes and jam their phones. Visit Stop Big Media for more information and assistance with contacting your representatives.

FCC Still Shilling For Big Media

From the New York Times:

“The head of the Federal Communications Commission has circulated an ambitious plan to relax the decades-old media ownership rules, including repealing a rule that forbids a company to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city.”

“Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the commission, wants to repeal the rule in the next two months – a plan that, if successful, would be a big victory for some executives of media conglomerates.”

The New York Times, a big media conglomerate, is severely understating the impact of these proposed rules. By relaxing ownership caps, the FCC will be exacerbating a problem that is already destroying free and diverse media in this country. In the past 25 years, the number of companies that controlled the majority of media output plunged from 50 to 5. The FCC thinks that that is a positive trend and is doing its best to sustain and advance it.

This is not the first time the FCC has taken such steps. The previous chairman, Michael Powell, tried to ram through similar rules but was beat back by the public and reversed by the courts. Martin is pretending to rectify Powell’s errors by staging events ostensibly to collect public opinion. However, he is now brazenly ignoring that opinion.

A year ago the FCC held hearings in Los Angeles that demonstrated a passionate opposition to further consolidation. The audience was probably 90+ percent opposed to relaxing ownership caps. That story was repeated in seven more cities where the FCC brought its show. Now Martin is justifying his proposed new rules by claiming that they were drafted with input from the public. The only problem is that nowhere in his proposal are the public’s views represented. It’s as if they never existed.


Tell the FCC: Stop Big Media
The FCC’s genuflection to Big Media was blocked last time because Americans in unprecedented numbers demanded fairness and independence. We must do so again. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan has long been a leader in this fight. Let him know that you appreciate his courage in taking on the media, an institution that could do him much harm. Also, visit FreePress and its affiliate Stop Big Media. Their site is stocked with information and tools to help you be an effective advocate for media reform.

This is a serious matter and demands a commitment to fight. Chairman Martin is determined to reward his Big Media patrons. No matter what other issue you are involved with, it is this issue that shapes the outcome. You cannot end the war in Iraq, or pass universal health care, or advance environmental protections, or [fill in the blank] without access to media that is responsible and accountable to citizens. It’s time to get to work…again.

FCC Chief Fucks Up

The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin, had some choice words in response to a court ruling yesterday. The case before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York concerned whether the FCC can regulate and penalize broadcasters for spontaneous profanities aired during live television programs. The court ruled that

“The FCC’s decision is devoid of any evidence that suggests a fleeting expletive is harmful, let alone established that this harm is serious enough to warrant government regulation. The order provides no reasoned analysis of the purported ‘problem’ it is seeking to address from which this court can conclude such regulation of speech is reasonable.”

Chairman Martin was less than pleased (PDF) with the court’s conclusion…

“I completely disagree with the Court’s ruling and am disappointed for American families. I find it hard to believe that the New York court would tell American families that “shit” and “fuck” are fine to say on broadcast television during the hours when children are most likely to be in the audience.”

Martin, however, doesn’t seem to have a problem with saying “shit” and “fuck” on the Internet, which children have also been known to use from time to time.