City of Roses
Three words come to my head when I reflect on this discussion: The Telecommunications Act.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is one of the worst blunders of the Clinton Administration that I'm still angry about, and example to why although I'm no fan of this administration, I was no fan of Clinton either.
The act was simply a Pandora's Box for cultural oligopoly. Look what happened in result of the act. In 1986, there were approximately 80 major media companies that competed with each other. In 2005, that number has plunged to 6. Six!
Not only that, but it has hurt on an economic level. In fact, over 10 years, the legislation was supposed to save consumers $550 billion, including $333 billion inlower long-distance rates, $32 billion in lower local phone rates, and $78 billion in lower cable bills. But what REALLY happened was that cable rates have surged by about 50 percent, and local phone rates went up more than 20 percent.
Moreover, industries supporting the new legislation predicted it would add 1.5 million jobs and boost the economy by $2 trillion. By 2003, however, telecommunications’ companies’ market value had fallen by about $2 trillion, and they had shed half a million jobs.
It gets even scarier than that, folks. By leaving regulatory discretion to the Federal Communications Commission, the Act gave the FCC the power to issue rules that often sabotaged the intent of Congress. And while corporate special interests all had a seat at the table when this bill was being negotiated, no one from the public did. Nor were average citizens even aware of this legislation’s great impact on how they got their entertainment and information, and whether it would foster or discourage diversity of viewpoints and a marketplace of ideas, crucial to democratic discourse.
So where am I going with this? The central travesty of this legislation and how it was sold to the is really exactly like how the USA PATRIOT Act was; 1) it was void of public input, 2) Congress hastily acted on this compromise without even reading most of the legislation, and 3) it was sold and promoted by the red herring that is the Decency Act, by exploiting the emotions of Americans that were rightfully concerned over the violent, profane and sexual content saturating the networks, just like the USA PATRIOT Act was sold and promoted by exploiting the emotions Americans had after September 11th and wrapping it up in pseudo-patriotic graffiti.
It's ironic that President Clinton signed this Act into law at some glitzy ceremony in the Library of Congress, where he said that “consumers will receive the benefits of lower prices, better quality and greater choices in their telephone and cable services, and they will continue to benefit from a diversity of voices and viewpoints in radio, television and print media.”, yet this was a law that did not involve any of those average citizen consumers he spoke of, and rather journalists chose to write about the legislation in terms of business, not in terms of how it would impact public policy. Heck, even some veteran Washington insiders admitted publicly they were surprised such an ambitious bill totally lacked public discussion.
Democracy is what has been hurt most of all from this deal. With all the media mergers that followed its signing into law, the media infrustructure is less and less diverse than it was in previous decades, where the same small handful of giant corporations own not only radio and TV stations, but even newspapers, movie studios, billboards, concert venues, you name it. At the same time, as the Project for Excellence in Journalism noted in 2004: “Most sectors of the media arecutting back in the newsroom, both in terms of staff and the time they have to gather and report the news ...journalists face real pressures trying to maintain quality.”
So, in the process, it has hurt the quality and diversity of music being played on the radio as well. By 2001, the number of radio station owners dropped about 25%, from 5,100 in 1996 to 3,800 owners. The FCC found in their own studies that the number of average stations per market fell from 13 to below 10 in the same time frame. And a study done by the Future of Music Coalition published November 18, 2002 documented the following changes:
1) Ten companies dominate two-thirds of the radio audience, with just two companies, Clear Channel and Viacom, owner of Infinity Broadcasting, controlling 42 percent of listeners and 45 percent of the radio industry revenues.
2) Nearly ALL radio markets are dominated by just four radio companies, controlling at least 70 percent of the radio audience, with concentration even greater in smaller markets.
3) Even fewer companies control the amount and source of news the radio listeners hear. Just fourcompanies control what commercial radio listeners hear on news format stations.
Also, between 1994 and 2001, the number of full-time radio newsroom staff shrank by 44 percent, and part-time news staff by 71 percent. And since the 1996 Telecommunications Act was passed, minority ownership of radio stations has plunged 14 percent, according to the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters.
I have been working at KBOO Community Radio for two years now, and in fact we currently are in the end of a bi-annual Membership Drive to continue funding the station, thus keeping it alive (we're currently $23,000 behind where we should be, which is not a pleasing sign). I've felt all too well the devastating effects such legislation have generated because I work alongside approximately 450 other volunteers who yearn to harness a megaphone for the public, for the community, a fraction of which are among the 10,000 radio employees who lost their jobs in result of the massive market buy-outs, including Don Manning, who enjoyed playing jazz at what was once a locally-owned jazz station in the Sacramento market, but was purchased by Clear Channel and laid off, and now runs a regular jazz program every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 P.M on KBOO.
I've seen how the already overblown decency standards have crushed home-grown radio and have seen diversity evaporate all across our media landscape, where everywhere you go on the television and radio dial these days, you hear and see things ubiquitously like Anna Nicole Smith news-flashes, the Keith Richards father snorting craze and the cross-marketing of bow-flex machines and tadalafil that can get your freak on for as much as 36 hours. That's pretty much all I see across the major media landscape, this same sort of recycled and regurgitated superficial content that further distracts the public from important issues, further limits the opportunities of new artists in finding their way onto the radio, and further distance the American public from the cultural megaphone, where now your best bet at picking up your fifteen minutes of fame is by being caught doing something stupid or grotesque on YouTube or crawling onto some reality-television program.
Compromise in the world of business elitism is too often a oxymoron, ESPECIALLY with this particular episode when these lobbyists from these giant corporations actually went to court to force the re-writing of every little thing they didn't like, where Congress was asleep at the wheel and allowed them to govern our own government. In the aftermath, it is democracy that suffers most.
Don't get me wrong here, what Don Imus said was disgusting and screams of both racism and misogyny, and I'm glad that the public has responded this way, just as I wish they'd also respond to equally as controversial remarks Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Glenn Beck have made without stifling their right to speak. But I do also fear very much that the FCC and these same lobbying interests in Congress will use this as an excuse to further deregulate our airwaves and further monopolize the media environment under the guise of "decency", which I find actually more troubling.
It's truly political to a huge degree. I'm not sure when I'll be able to forgive Clinton and the Congress at that time for the Telecommunications Act, just as I'm not sure when I'll be able to forgive Bush and the rubber-stamp Congress for his constant lust for further executive power, and the passive allowance of it. THIS is pivotal to why I'm a registered Independent.
"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other"