Michael Copps, a Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), stops by The Nation offices every year to talk about what is happening to our media landscape. Invariably, he let’s us know that no matter what a person considers his or her #1 issue – whether it be fighting poverty, ending the war, affordable health care, or anything else – the #2 issue better be media matters.
As he recently said in an interview with Salon: “Your No. 2 issue has to be this media issue, because all those other issues you care about… are funneled and filtered through big media, if they’re lucky enough to get in that funnel at all…. Then they’re covered with the slant of a few particular companies.”
Copps is currently battling FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s attempt to circumvent public comment and rush through an anti-democratic plan that would make it easier for a single company to own multiple media outlets in a single market. Though Martin claims he would only allow companies in the top 20 markets to own both a daily newspaper and a broadcast outlet, Copps points out that that represents approximately 43 percent of US households, and there is a major loophole allowing companies to do the same in “just about any market on the basis of meeting a few loose criteria.” Martin’s consolidation not only would weaken an already lacking diversity of voices in the media as well as in media ownership, it would also deepen the political crisis of our time – our downsized politics of excluded alternatives.
It’s worth noting that the FCC attempted an even more extreme consolidation makeover in 2003 and an outpouring of transpartisan grassroots, citizen opposition defeated its efforts. (That proposal would have allowed a single company in one town to own up to three TV stations, eight radio stations, the daily newspaper, the cable system and the Internet service provider – so it’s not just old media that Martin has set his sights on.) The response in 2003 was a model of citizen activism that can work again. But at this crucial time, it’s also important that presidential candidates show leadership, speak out, and educate the public on these issues. Some are doing that, and most are at the very least cosponsors of the bipartisan Media Ownership Act of 2007 which would prevent Martin from holding a FCC vote on the new rules – scheduled for December 18 and sure to win approval – for at least six months. Below is a look at what most of the democratic candidates are doing – or not doing – to address these issues.
Joe Biden: His campaign office directed me to this press release, in which Senator Biden stated his opposition to Martin’s effort to repeal the rule which prevents a company from owning both a newspaper and a television station in the same city. “The Federal Communications Commission’s plan to lift its anti-monopoly regulations could have dangerous consequences,” said Biden. “If this plan goes forward, two or three media conglomerates could end up controlling every broadcast medium in the country. From a safety perspective, what happens if one company controls the television, radio and internet services in a region and its servers go down during a natural disaster or terrorist attack? From a constitutional perspective, what happens when one company owns all of the airwaves in an area and it refuses to broadcast certain content? These are important security and constitutional issues best addressed by keeping the current rules in place.” Biden is a cosponsor of the Media Ownership Act.