6/22/2007

Free marketplace of ideas?

While I find one-issue voters – abortion, gun-hugging, Iraq war – myopic, I acknowledge that we all have our pet concerns.

Mine are the media and the Religious Right. Natural progressions since I’m a retired journalist and a Christian.

Nothing I learned on the way to degrees in journalism (and a degree in political science) prepared me for the right-wing takeover of America’s broadcast media.

I didn’t leave my church – a member of the Southern Baptist Convention - my church left me in the early ‘80s as fundamentalists began a takeover of all commissions and college boards of the SBC. Nothing I learned in Jesus’ teachings prepared me for narrow-mindedness and intolerance.

This post is about the broadcast media and what has evolved as a result of Republican control of Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The dominant discussion I clearly recall from graduate school (in the early 80s) was how media consolidation would consolidate and control opinion.

In our naivete we never dreamed a Florida court of appeals would rule, in 2003, that it’s legal for a Fox News to lie to its viewers. LINK

In the last year I read William L. Shirer’s masterpiece, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany.” Goebbel’s state propaganda office and its control of Germany’s media is a tocsin for the ages, and the following report should be of grave concern to all Americans.

Those who revel in its implications – fans of the Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys, Bill O’Reillys, Laura Ingrahams - are the same people who cheered when the Supreme Court of the United States threw the Constitution out with the dishwater in Election 2000.

You know: the “what’s best for me and my ideology and screw America” types.

The Center for American Progress and Free Press have released a report on the public airwaves – which belong to the people – and here is a synopsis of its findings (LINK):

(Begin quoted material)

“LACK OF DIVERSITY:” Conservative Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) raised a furor last week when he called out the right-wing radio hosts working to defeat comprehensive immigration reform. "Talk radio is running America," Lott said. "We have to deal with that problem." Indeed, despite the dramatic expansion of viewing and listening options for consumers today, traditional radio remains one of the most widely used media formats in America, reaching an estimated 50 million listeners each week on more than 1,700 stations across the nation. More importantly, talk radio is dominated almost exclusively by conservatives. The Center for American Progress and Free Press yesterday released the first-of-its-kind statistical analysis of the political make-up of talk radio in the United States. The results confirm the stunning lack of diversity in talk radio, and raise serious questions about whether the companies licensed to broadcast over the public airwaves are serving the listening needs of all Americans.

HOW BAD IS IT: In the spring of 2007, 91 percent of the political talk radio programming on the stations owned by the top five commercial station owners was conservative, and only 9 percent was progressive. Ninety-two percent of these stations (236 stations out of 257) do not broadcast a single minute of progressive talk radio programming. In the top 10 radio markets in the country, 76 percent of the news/talk programming is conservative, while 24 percent is progressive. In four of those top 10 markets -- Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston -- the domination of conservative talk radio is between 96 and 100 percent.

MORE CONSOLIDATION, LESS DIVERSITY, LESS ACCOUNTABILITY: The increasing imbalance in talk radio has paralleled significant shifts in the media ownership landscape. Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, there has been a dramatic decline (34 percent) in the number of radio station owners, meaning a sharp increase in media ownership concentration. This trend has occurred because Congress eliminated restrictions on the total ownership of radio stations by any one media entity. Now, in the largest markets with 45 or more commercial radio stations, one entity may own or control up to eight commercial radio stations. As a result, women and minorities "have largely been shut out of radio ownership in this country," owning just 6 and 7.7 percent respectively of the nation's full-power radio stations. Also, due to increasing deregulation, local accountability over the public airwaves has been sharply limited. Radio stations are licensed by the government and are meant to operate in the public interest. Yet stations no longer have to inform the community of their obligations as a federal licensee, and the needs and interests of local communities are being ignored.

HOW TO SOLVE IT: The primary goals of policy proposals to reduce the gap should be to encourage more speech on the airwaves, not less, and to ensure that local needs are being met and diverse opinions are being aired. First, the CAP/Free Press report recommends that Congress promote ownership diversity by restoring the local and national caps on the ownership of commercial radio stations. For instance, no one entity should control more than 10 percent of the total commercial radio stations in a given market. Second, the report recommends that steps be taken to ensure greater local accountability over radio licensing. Radio broadcast licensees should regularly show that they are operating on behalf of the public interest, and provide public documentation showing how they are meeting these obligations. Finally, if commercial radio broadcasters are unwilling to abide by these regulatory standards or the FCC is unable to effectively regulate in the public interest, a spectrum use fee should be levied on owners to directly support local, regional, and national public broadcasting. (For more detailed explanations of the policy proposals, read the full report: LINK)
(End quoted material)

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YOU own the public airwaves. To email FCC commissioners: LINK

4 comments:

airth10 said...

Good post Sir Cumspect.

Though there are concerns about America's media concentration beginning to resemble that of Goebble's propaganda machine in Nazi Germany, I would say America is too jaded, fractured and opinionated to be controlled by a single source of media concentration.

Though it is slow to emerg, I see a backlash developing towards right-wing religion and a concentration in the media. Those past developments do not represent America's core values, so I can't see them inevitably taking over the U.S. Even Trent Lott has sounded the alarm.

Conservative are just as concerned and incensed about the erosion of their liberties as liberals, if not more so.

Sir Cumspect said...

Airth 10, your comments are appreciated. I do believe you underestimate the power of the right-wing to manipulate news and minds. In my humble opinion, I believe it would be a mistake to think that historical upheavals that have happened in other countries in other decades could not happen here. Ideological and religious fanaticism can do weird things to people, i.e. Oklahoma City. How else can one account for the fact that, according to the new Newsweek poll, 26 percent of Americans believe George W. Bush is doing a good job? I hope you are right, but a great many books I’ve listened to of late indicate that Hillary was not too far off when she talked about “the great right-wing conspiracy."

airth10 said...

America has always had transcending issues, like immigration, to disrupt right-wing or any other conspiracies. Right winger are as divided on that issue as is any other faction of America. Such divisions, which there are plenty of in America, keep conspiracies at bay and off balance.

I mean, that 26 percent believe that Bush is doing a good job shouldn't be an indication of a right-wing take over. People will always be convinced of something like over 40 percent of Americans still believe that there were more than to shooters who killed President Kennedy even thought the evidence is overwhelmingly against it.

Speaking of Kennedy, at the time of his run for the presidency there was a conspiracy theory that if elected he would be controlled by the Vatican, he being Catholic and all.

Anonymous said...

Inhofe who is over on the far right side of the senate aisle is claiming he overheard Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer talking about this report and saying radio needs to be fixed. Both the Boxer and Clinton camps are denying the conversation took place. But, why shouldn't it take place? This is not about free press or free speech - this is government regulation the writers of the constitution never anticipated. You can bet if the numbers were reversed the right-wing would be howling its collective ass off.

Deke