FCC Rule Cannot Be Allowed to Stand
By Bill Clinton
New York Daily Times
Sunday 06 July 2003
'It's your money," says President Bush when he promotes tax cuts. I disagree with his tax policy but admire his spin.
The same argument applies with greater force to whether big media conglomerates should be allowed to control more television and radio stations: "It's your airwaves."
The American people own the bandwidth that broadcast media companies use to deliver programs to our TVs and radios.
Because the space on that bandwidth is limited, the Federal Communications Commission regulates who has access to our eyes and ears.
For more than 60 years, the FCC allowed companies to own a number of local TV stations, provided that no single company owned enough to reach more than 35 percent of the population of the United States.
But on June 2, by a 3-to-2 vote, the FCC raised the limit to 45 percent, giving big media firms the chance to gobble up many more local TV stations.
In fact, a single giant corporation will be able to control up to three of the television stations in America's nine largest cities.
The FCC also opened the door to local TV-newspaper mergers in many places, so you'll be getting your news and information from the same company regardless of whether you're turning on the TV or opening the newspaper.
Why is this bad? Because more monolithic control over local media will reduce the diversity of information, opinion and entertainment people get.
Interesting local coverage will be supplanted by lowest-common-denominator mass-market mush.
But don't cable TV and the Internet give people more sources of information? In theory, yes. In practice, not necessarily.
Big media firms own most of the cable networks and supply much of the content for major Internet sites.
Is this another Democrat vs. Republican battle? Is my concern motivated by the growing influence of right-wing voices in the broadcast media?
While it's true the FCC vote split along party lines - Republicans for looser standards, Democrats against - and while I have noticed the conservative slant in more media organizations these days, the debate over media ownership is not a partisan one.
Organizations from the National Organization for Women to the National Rifle Association have spoken out against what the FCC decided to do.
More than 750,000 Americans of all political persuasions registered their opinion of the new rules with the FCC, and nearly 100 percent of them were opposed!
The lack of diversity and independence in the broadcast media may be why you didn't hear much about this big issue on TV or radio in recent months.
But the opposition is truly a grass-roots movement, and it won't go away, even if it's not on the evening news. And the voice of the people is beginning to be heard, at least on Capitol Hill.
The Senate Commerce Committee acted quickly after the FCC vote to approve legislation - on a bipartisan basis - that would reinstate more sensible media ownership rules.
Although Republicans as well as Democrats oppose the FCC decision, it's unclear whether the Commerce Committee legislation can pass in the full Senate - or in the House of Representatives.
The FCC ruling also faces challenges in the courts. But there is no guarantee the commission's error will be corrected anytime soon.
Therefore, Congress is our best hope. Whatever your political philosophy, if you favor competition and diversity in the media, you should call, write or e-mail your senators and representatives.
The stakes are high. "At issue," says FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, "is whether a few corporations will be ceded enhanced gatekeeper control over the civil dialogue of our country; more content control over our music, entertainment and information, and veto power over the majority of what our families watch, hear and read."
People joke about my liking McDonald's, and I do. But actually, I prefer to go down to Lange's Deli, a great family establishment, near my house.
In the brave new world being defined by the FCC, there will be more McMedia on our airwaves and far fewer broadcast equivalents of our favorite local diners.
Unlike restaurants, the airwaves belong to us. We shouldn't give up our right to have more choice.
Bill Clinton was president of the United States from 1993 to 2001. He wrote this for the New York Daily News