Five companies control our inputs -- and thus our thoughts?
Hinchey proposes anti-trust for airwaves
Two decades ago, Reaganís FCC narrowed the discourse. How could it be expanded even beyond the old range of ideas? Mike O'Mara, founder of the Democratic Freedom Caucus (DFC), excerpted the below from Congressman Hinchey's website and appended the introduction and conclusion, February 13, 2009, all of which we edited.
by Mike O MaraCongressman Maurice Hinchey of NY is introducing legislation for anti-trust measures for radio and TV, to undo the concentrated media ownership that has been accelerated due to government policies since the Reagan administration.
Five companies control the majority of major media, including radio, TV, and cable. Such concentrated control over information hinders citizens from having access to alternative views. The narrow range of ideas is one of the major causes of problems in this country.
The Media Ownership Reform Act (MORA) seeks to restore integrity and diversity to America's media system by lowering the number of media outlets that one company is permitted to own in a single market. The bill also reinstates the Fairness Doctrine to protect fairness and accuracy in journalism. Hinchey will be introducing an updated version of MORA in the coming weeks.
Our airwaves are a precious and limited commodity that belong to the general public. As such, they are regulated by the government. Nearly 60 years ago, the Supreme Court declared that "the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is essential to the condition of a free society."
From 1949 to 1987, a keystone of this regulation was the Fairness Doctrine to try to provide the American audience with robust debate on controversial and pressing issues. Despite numerous instances of support from the US Supreme Court, President Reagan's FCC eliminated the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, and a subsequent bill passed by Congress to place the doctrine into federal law was then vetoed by Reagan.
MORA would amend the 1934 Communications Act to restore the Fairness Doctrine and explicitly require broadcast licensees to provide a reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance.
Today, a mere five companies own the broadcast networks, 90% of the top 50 cable networks, produce three-quarters of all prime time programming, and control 70% of the prime time television market share. One-third of America's independently-owned television stations have vanished since 1975.
MORA would prevent any one company from owning broadcast stations that reach more than 35% of US television households. It would re-establish a national radio ownership cap at no more than 5% of American AM and FM stations. The bill would limit a single company from owning more than a certain number of stations within a certain broadcast market, with the limit varying depending upon the size of each market.
MORA creates a new media ownership review process, to be carried out by the FCC every three years, to measure localism, competition, diversity of voices, diversity of ownership, children's programming, small and local broadcasters, and technological advancement. The bill requires the FCC to report to Congress on its findings.
Co-sponsors: Rep DeFazio, Peter A. [OR-4]; Rep Filner, Bob [CA-51]; Rep Hastings, Alcee L. [FL-23]; Rep Kaptur, Marcy [OH-9]; Rep Lee, Barbara [CA-9]; Rep McDermott, Jim [WA-7]; Rep Moran, James P. [VA-8]; Rep Owens, Major R. [NY-11]; Rep Sanders, Bernard [VT]; Rep Schakowsky, Janice D. [IL-9]; Rep Slaughter, Louise McIntosh [NY-28]; Rep Solis, Hilda L. [CA-32]; Rep Stark, Fortney Pete [CA-13]; Rep Waters, Maxine [CA-35]; Rep Watson, Diane E. [CA-33].
While the bill would require broadcasters to offer equal time for diverse political opinions, should government regulate the political content of radio or TV? Would not breaking up the concentration and dispersing ownership do the job as well or better?
Besides the mandated cap -- a political approach -- there is an economic solution. Note use of the airwaves means using a natural resource, and markets for natural resources are subject to different economic laws than markets for products and services. Thatís why we should subject them to different political laws from those we impose on buildings, business, and income.
Owners of the airwaves have been using the revenue from ownership of that natural resource to buy up more airwaves, as well as other media, including newspapers, magazines, and movies. We could simply charge each broadcaster an annual rental fee for the use of the broadcast spectrum (now given away for free). Having to pay the fee makes it no longer profitable to monopolize the air waves so owners sell of their excess, typically at prices newcomers can afford.
But at least the proposed legislation is a step in the right direction. Hence some DFC activists are contacting Hinchey's office, or one of the co-sponsors, to express their support for the bill. Stopping the concentrated control over the airwaves is what's needed.
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