Policy is a Distaster for American Democracy
By Gerald Plessner
Americans should be grateful to Michael Powell for showing
us the moral bankruptcy of Libertarianism. By taking its economic
atheism to the extreme, Powell has demonstrated how its adherents
believe that this radical philosophy is more important than
the U.S. Constitution. We should reward Powell with demands
for his resignation.
Michael Powell is the chair of the Federal Communication Commission
who was appointed by President Clinton. Together with his
two President Bush-appointed fellow commissioners, Powell
recently gave unbridled future control of America's
radio and television air waves to nine or ten major corporations.
While the FCC was under orders to review regulatory control
of radio and television, it was not directed to go as far
as Powell, a staunch advocate of Libertarian deregulation,
took it. Powell's leadership will soon result in an additional
loss of the news and information citizens need to determine
if their elected officials are serving them well and fairly.
In hammering through his new regulatory scheme Powell refused
to hold public hearings prior to the vote on his proposals. After
the two Democratic commissioners toured the country holding
their own hearings, the FCC received 750,000 emails and phone
calls denouncing the expected decision. Chairman Powell dismissed
this overwhelming public dissent as irrelevant.
While his disdain for the public interest is offensive, his
lack of respect for the nation's core values of a free and
competitive press is truly frightening.
Here, in brief, is what the FCC decision does: 1.) Relaxes
prohibitions on joint ownership of newspapers and TV stations
in the same market; 2.) Permits corporations to own stations
reaching as much as 45% of the nation's viewers; 3.) Permits
a corporation to own as many as three TV stations in the nation's
nine largest cities including Los Angeles; 4.) Permits cross-ownership
of TV stations and newspapers in mid-size cities; and 5.)
Relaxes rules regarding local mergers of radio and TV stations.
All of this means that fewer companies will own more outlets
as a feeding frenzy of purchases and mergers will inevitably
follow the decision, which was strongly criticized by such
varied organizations as the National Rifle Association and
the National Organization for Women. Many Senators and
members of Congress are concerned about the decision, which
they see as limiting their access to the public during elections
and limiting information and entertainment in smaller cities.
The White House is supportive of the decision.
Most important, the decision will give uncontrolled power
to major corporations to influence their news and opinion
functions without competition in the gathering and dissemination
of news and opinion.
There was a time when America's airwaves were thought to be
the property of the American people. The ownership of
a radio or TV station was a privilege, not a right.
That privilege was earned by providing news, information and
Today four companies own TV stations reaching 30% or more
of America's households. One company, Clear Channel
Communications, owns more than 1,220 radio stations, about
10% of the nation's total. A number of other companies
own hundreds of outlets and many stations have no local employees
or presence. They are drones managed by remote, broadcasting
music, news and commercials created in a central location,
promoting songs they are paid to air and controlling news
content to satisfy corporate goals.
Such was the case recently when Clear Channel Communications,
whose chief executive is a long-time supporter of President
Bush, banned the Dixie Chicks from its stations in retaliation
for one of their member's comments about the president.
Drone stations are also not available to respond to community
disasters such as potentially harmful chemical spills, traffic
accidents or dangerous weather alerts.
Every single action by Powell previous to this raid on our
right to an open and diverse press indicated that he would
do just what he did. The only surprising thing was Powell's
hijacking of the democratic process and his disregard for
the fundamentals of American democracy. It took this
arrogance to motivate the American public to tell their leaders
to do something.
The lesson from this tragedy is even greater than its certain
damage to public discourse and the unbridled media consolidation
it will unleash. Americans must understand that the
Libertarian philosophy gripping our national politicians is
a kind of economic atheism that is at its heart undemocratic.
While it may be very good for corporations and their shareholders,
there is no industry in the modern world that has not seen
consumer choice diminished by Libertarianism. And the
loss of choice is a loss of freedom. It is time for
our national leaders to step back from this consolidation
and internationalization of all business.
Those who cry out against America's loss of sovereignty through
the United Nations and other international entanglements should
join in this effort to give citizens a renewed control of
their own destiny. Getting Congress to rescind the new
FCC rules is the place to start.
Gerald Plessner writes regularly on issues of politics
and culture. He would be pleased to hear from you and
may be contacted at email@example.com.