The Federal Communications Commission voted today to allow giant corporations to own more broadcast stations in the same market. This is a dangerous trend for American citizens, consumers – and democracy.
The Parents Television Council has long stood against the rising tide of “media consolidation.” Today, as Sinclair explores a merger with Tribune, Time Warner with AT&T, and Fox with various other outlets, the PTC reaffirms its longstanding commitment to diversity in media and local control over, and accountability for, media content.
“Media consolidation” is the industry term for the trend towards more and more sources of information – newspapers, cable networks, TV and radio broadcast stations, music and record companies, and so forth – being owned by a smaller and smaller group of giant media conglomerates. As ownership is concentrated in fewer hands, those hands become so powerful that they are able to stifle the free market – and free speech. The first means that nobody can compete with the big conglomerates; these vast mega-corporations enjoy a near-monopoly and can charge whatever they want for their products, without healthy competition to keep the price down. The second means that the public only sees and hears what the conglomerates want them to see and hear – whether that’s slanted and biased news, or raunchy and violent entertainment. And because the conglomerates control both the sources of news and entertainment production AND the sources of distribution which get their products out to the public, opposing them is extremely difficult.
The consolidation of media outlets has led to a coarsening of television content, a destruction of the concept of community standards of decency, an unresponsive, irresponsible news media that routinely ignores news stories to protect its parent corporations, and a cable television industry that effectively functions as a cartel.
These big media companies don’t conduct themselves responsibly. They don’t deserve to own even more media outlets. The only voices in favor of allowing big media companies to grow even bigger are from the big media companies themselves.
Here’s one reason why the ownership issue is so important to the Parents Television Council: when the networks control local TV stations, those stations don’t consider their community’s standards of decency — even though the law says they’re required to do so, in order to hold a government broadcast license. And why don’t the stations consider community standards? Because their network bosses in New York and Hollywood order them not to!
The PTC has heard privately – and repeatedly – from independent local broadcasters around the country, who say that they’ve been told by the networks they’ll lose their affiliate status if they preempt network programming – even if they know local citizens will be offended by what the network is showing! When local programming decisions are dictated by corporate bigwigs thousands of miles away, the public interest is not being served.
Media consolidation has led to a self-serving news media that protects the interests of their own corporate parents. Congress empowered the Federal Communications Commission to uphold broadcast decency standards on the public airwaves at the times when children are most likely to be in the audience. The Supreme Court upheld Congress’ right to do so. But the broadcast networks challenged the FCC’s ability to enforce the law. The networks even convinced two federal judges in New York City that they have a “right” to air the F-word at any time of day, even when they know millions of children are watching. Dozens of concerned family groups, including the PTC, were shocked that a federal court could reach such a preposterous conclusion; but hardly anything about the court’s ruling appeared in the news media. Not a single national broadcast news organization saw fit to cover it! And even with a host of 24-hour-a-day news channels on cable, there was nearly zero coverage of a decision that directly impacted every family in the country.
Why not? The corporate news divisions didn’t cover their parent companies’ lawsuits because they knew the public would be outraged by the arrogance of the media conglomerates. These lawsuits were filed by the major television networks: the same corporations who want an even greater share of the media pie. Rather than take their public interest obligations seriously, the broadcast networks have shown contempt for the owners of the airwaves from which they make billions of dollars. The American people own the airwaves; but the moguls who run the gigantic media conglomerates don’t care about that. They only care about protecting their interests…and gobbling up even more media outlets than they own already.
If the media conglomerates cannot be trusted with something as simple as keeping the f-word off TV, then why should we trust them to be good stewards of the public airwaves, and give them even more control of the media than they already have now?
This is why the PTC recently joined the Coalition to Save Local Media, a remarkably diverse group of public policy advocates who oppose the loosening of media ownership rules, to stand up for the rights of the American people against the greedy self-interest of the media cartel.