McChesney, media reform and the FCC

April 21st, 2003 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

Just received a note from Bob McChesney about the FCC’s proposed regulation changes and what you can do to help:

Dear Friend,

If you believe that we need a free and independent media in the United States, we need you to send an email to Congress right now telling them so. Go to now, or stay here and let us explain.

On June 2, big money special interests and the Federal Communications Commission plan to further relax or eliminate the remaining significant media ownership laws. They call it “deregulation,” but it is no such thing. It is actually “re-regulation,” such that all the choice radio and TV licenses can go to fewer and fewer massive firms, and these firms can buy up far more newspapers and cable TV systems and channels than was ever possible in the past. If you like what has happened to radio since its ownership rules were scrapped in 1996, you’ll love what is about to happen in the rest of the U.S. media. It can get worse. Much worse.

The majority of the FCC members are under the thumb of the massive media conglomerates that are demanding these changes so they can get bigger and face less competition. They are working to rush these changes through without any public involvement.

The AFL-CIO, Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America and leading religious and civil rights groups have argued that the changes go too far. Yet, polls show that most Americans do not know that the FCC is preparing to dramatically shift the landscape of American media, journalism and democracy.

Only concerted effort on our part can stop the FCC.

In the next few weeks, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee will hold crucial hearings on the proposed deregulation.

Public comments will determine whether or not Congress allows Big Media to have their way.

Please go to One click will send your message to Congress and the FCC demanding they preserve current media ownership rules for the sake of a diverse, independent, and competitive media.

If we lose this fight, the likely stampede of mergers will give a handful of large corporations greater influence over what is– and is not — reported in the news. The quality of media will get even worse as the public’s ability to have open, informed discussion with a wide variety of viewpoints declines, eroding the foundations of our democracy.

No matter what your issue, media reform is integral to it. As they say, You control the news, you control the views.

Finally, please send this message to everyone you think might be interested via email. We can win this fight.

Bob McChesney & John Nichols

PS — Free Press is a new group we co-founded. It is a national organization working to increase informed public participation in crucial media policy debates, and generate a range of policies that will produce a more competitive and public interest-oriented media system. For more information, please contact Free Press: or call toll free 866-666-1533

So what are you waiting for?

  1. 10 Responses to “McChesney, media reform and the FCC”

  2. By Aaron Stanley on May 5, 2003 | Reply

    “So what are you waiting for?”

    Personally I’m waiting for a capitalist reason to oppose this move. I don’t believe that this decision on the part of the FCC would be “re-regulation” as opposed to deregulation. Any attempt by the government to relax their already imposed limits on industry is, by definition, deregulation. This decision, should the FCC make it, would at least theoretically allow for more competition on the media markets. As it stands, corporations are artificially restricted from meeting consumer demands in some areas because the FCC does not allow them to start as many media outlets in that area as the local consumers demand. I ask you, why should we, the federal government, or the FCC be the ones to decide what viewpoints get air time in a given market? Shouldn’t that be up to each markets’ consumers?

  3. By Jeremy Dunck on May 5, 2003 | Reply

    Aaron, you might like or hate “Not So Free To Choose”.

  4. By Paul on May 5, 2003 | Reply

    I understand the appeal of the open market. As a student of finance, I love the idea that the market has the power find its own equilibrium and that corrective forces will ensure that it continues to operate efficiently.

    That theory of market interaction presupposes openness and transparency. If I understand the changes to radio in 1996 and the proposed changes to remaining broadcast media, there will not be de-regulation. The FCC will still retain the power to designate who can and cannot broadcast within a particular geography. The re-regulation removes the restriction on the number of broadcast outlets owned by any one company.

    The capitalist argument might be that the market created by the FCC now, and after June 1st, is artificial, opaque, and stifling. True, there are currently controls in place to ensure competition. After June 1st, there will be fewer controls, but the market will not be any more transparent or open; the reduced controls will bring temporary freedom, resulting in a free for all and then a lockup. After the major conglomerates have purchased broadcast rights, it is unlikely that they will be redistributed, and it is illegal for a new company to enter the market by broadcasting without FCC license.

    The market will be closed, and all we’ll have to listen to is the same tripe on channel after channel. Ordinarily, a radio station, tv station, or newspaper would have to respond and improve to prevent consumer diaspora, but if channel surfing listeners simply hop from one corner of the conglomerate network to the other, there’s no market pressure to innovate, improve, or respond. That’s not capitalism.

    The only capitalist play left for consumers would be to tune out of the major media newspapers, tv stations, and radio stations en masse. There are serious practical difficulties in mounting such a large scale shift in consumer behavior, and a secondary problem created when the masses stop informing themselves, however minimally, through the broadcast media.

    It’s a nasty situation, I say. And though I believe firmly in capitalism, I don’t believe that it’s a silver bullet philosophical framework for solving all problems.

  5. By adam on May 6, 2003 | Reply

    here’s your “capitalist reason”:
    1. capitalists like competition, it’s at the very center of their account of how the market gives rise to efficiency. the general capitalist attitude of opposition to government intervention comes only as a consequence of this commitment to competition.
    2. easing media ownership rules will reduce competition, therefore,
    3. a capitalist should in this case support an increase in regulation, or at least the maintaining of present levels of media ownership regulation.

    i mean, capitalists are supposed to love free markets, because a free market is one in which competition thrives. sometimes markets are distorted; one example of this is the distorting effect of government regulations, which you mention. another form of distortion is created when monopolistic or oligopolistic companies dominate a market, especially where the market is one where new entrants are effectively barred by prohibitive costs of entry [it costs a lot to set up a tv network, for example] or government restrictions [not just anyone can broadcast, you need FCC approval]. it is artificial in the extreme for a capitalist [by which i mean someone who is ideologically committed to competition] to have an in principle objection to one sort of distortion, yet give no shit about the other sort.

    there’s your reason. now write your letter to the FCC in support of a regulation which in this case enhances competition.

  6. By Dru on May 6, 2003 | Reply


    Do you have any examples of consumers demanding what you describe? Did consumers demand that ClearChannel get rid of local programming and centralize all of their operations? Are there consumers out there demanding that news gathering organizations cut their staffs in order to make higher profits? I’m interested in these claims, but I just don’t see any evidence that *anyone*, much less capitalists, are paying attention to what consumers are “demanding”. How could this even be determined?

  7. By Margaret J. Tims on May 7, 2003 | Reply

    This further enabling of huge media conglomerates to totally control American media must not be allowed to occur. I urge The FCC and Congress to work for the benefit of the American public, rather than to further empower and enrich Big Business.

  8. By Ben on May 15, 2003 | Reply

    “Why should we, the federal government, or the FCC be the ones to decide what viewpoints get air time in a given market? Shouldn’t that be up to each markets’ consumers?”

    This is the point. Governments are accountable to their voters. Companies are accountable to their owners. Consumers are more likely to be voters than significant media owners. If consumers genuinely drove their media, rather than the other way round, you’d have a point.

  9. By Andrew Ó Baoill on Feb 10, 2004 | Reply

    As debate seems to have finished up on this thread, and the only comments coming in are spam, I’m going to close this comment thread now. Thank you all for your interesting comments.

  10. By Aaron Stanley on Feb 2, 2005 | Reply

    [Note – I deleted this by mistake when removing some spam, and retrieved it from records – Andrew, 2/2/2005]

    Okay.. bullet points:

    1. The communications spectrum, as it is regulated by the FCC now, is not a free market — Darn tootin’ And it darn well should be. If I had my way I’d dissolve the FCC right now and auction off the spectrum to the highest bidder. I’d keep the government out of that regulation and allow the market to determine who gets what frequencies. Having the FCC remove the restrictions on ownership now only starts us down the road to full openness of the spectrum. Whether we get there or not will be up to the lobbying that we can do to persuade the government to get its nose out of something it never belonged in.

    2. The market only likes Top 40 (i.e., it’s closed) — True. Unfortunate, but not the place of the government to tell us what is good for us to listen to. If the consumers want Top 40, give it to them. There’s no reason for a few of the intelligensia to say that because classical music is more cultured, everybody has a “right” to get classical music on the radio.

    3. Markets fail and we should fix them — Well, yes and no. Sometimes there are companies that get monopoly power and use it in ways that all but destroys the market. They raise prices, provide poor service, and don’t answer consumer demands. We should break those monopolies when we need to. However, there should be a proveable way or two in which the company has used its monopoly power illegally and is hurting consumers in such a way that the market can never solve the problem. Try to prove that in radio or TV. I get well over 400 channels of cable TV (and still nothing is on) and those channels represent such a wide array of viewpoints that even if half of them were able to band together under one corporation we would still have 300 viewpoints. Even now, looking at the channels that Viacom owns, there is diversity in opinion between umbrella’d channels (e.g., VH-1 and Comedy Central). Even if the FCC didn’t open up the broadcast spectrum, there is absolutely no reason to believe that FOX and ABC would merge and the viewpoints on the new stations would be identical. There are clearly different demographics that each station is aiming for and those demos have different politics and want different things from their TV. Please don’t try to say that consumer demand never comes through in the programming you see because there are monopoly forces at work.

    4. Consumer demand never comes through — See above. But also, think about yourself, right now, doing what you are doing. You are reading this debate. You are engaged. You are consuming media. Your preferences are being recorded and I, along with many of the other people reading this debate, are formulating ways to market our ideas to you and find out how to get you to buy things. The market is so enormous in this country that we have hundreds of TV channels, thousands of radio stations, and tens of thousands of magazines. There are people out there that are interested in so many different things and there are always entrepenuers ready to provide them with media. We are a popular-culture engrossed in mass media with choices upon choices and sub-choices within them. I don’t think that consolidation in the market will eliminate that. Of course there are companies that will always try to appeal to the broadest market possible, but for each of those, there is a niche market that two or three smaller companies are competing for. Just think about the PC wars and the pseudo-monopoly of Microsoft and the rise and fall of Linux, BeOS, Amiga, Apple, Commodore, Tandy, Lindows, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, etc. etc. ad infinitum. There are always challengers in the market so long as there are no artificial restrictions on how big it can get.

    4. Reality.. So a lot of this reasoning relies on the FCC opening the spectrum to full competition. Given that we can’t count on that happening (boo!), how does this current rule relaxation look to play out in the real world? Well, given that consumer demand exists for a wide variety of radio and TV programming, and that the country as a whole does not ascribe to a single set of beliefs (traditional or popular), there will most likely not be a single dominant radio or TV point of view. We may, however, see a decline in the quality of the content provided by news media as they rush out the door to find the most absurdly disingenious-to-their-profession sappy story they can find in order to sell more papers, but that is a known side effect of a pop-culture market. That’s not to say there will not be challengers. There are enough hold-outs, exemplified by the people that are interested in this debate, that consumer demand for alternative media will continue to exist. But maybe it won’t exist in the ways you want it to. It’s possible that it will get relegated to the non-mainstream media. Perhaps our views will be heard more on Internet radio and Satellite TV instead of broadcast, but what’s so bad about that? Really, is there something so vile, so inherently despicable about having to use the Internet to get the news you want to hear or read?

    Technology is an enabler here that can let us break beyond the shackles that the FRC created and the FCC is perpetuating. I’m not saying we should be forced to settle for this, but at least you shouldn’t start crying like Chicken Little every time the FCC makes a bonehead decision. There are alternatives that are currently viable and perhaps it’s time to start building on those in order to promote the cultural enlightenment that we are all so intent on fostering. Of course we should continue to fight against the bad policy decisions, but I don’t think this is one of them.

    Just because this has the potential to change the market, doesn’t automatically mean it’ll change it in a bad way. The consumer demand for varied music and TV exists and will continue to thrive. Mass media will not be able to simply pull the wool over the country’s eyes and force us to gargle on Britney and “X-tina” for the rest of our lives. Radio shouldn’t be able to trick us again like it did with War of the Worlds, I’d like to think we’re smarter now than we were then.

    The crux of this whole argument, lest we forget, is that it is not the place of you, me, or the federal government to decide what is good and what is bad. It is not our place to tell consumers what they can and can’t hear. And it’s certainly not our place to second guess the consumers when they have decided, through watching BS-TV like “Big Brother” and “Mr. Personality,” that they want their media bland, but with a little spice only after 10:00pm. If the companies that publish this crap are able to convince consumers to buy it, that’s the consumers desire. You have every right to tell them that they are stupid and that crap-TV is going to destroy them from the inside out, but you don’t ever have a right to force them to stop watching.

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