MEDIA WATCH COLUMN: THE URGENCY FOR MEDIA REFORM

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By Jennifer Douglas, jen@saveklsd.com

May 3, 2013 (San Diego)--The need for media reform and putting a halt to further media consolidation now seems urgent. Since late April, we have learned that billionaire conservative activists are moving ahead in a bid to buy the Los Angeles Times; Obama's nominated a former corporate lobbyist to head the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); a senator reminds us that six mega-corporations own most of our mass media, and a leading champion of media reform, Common Cause leader Bob Edgar (photo, left) has died suddenly.

The non-partisan government accountability group Common Cause says "The Los Angeles Times, even after years of mismanagement and newsroom layoffs, is one of the nation’s great newspapers, is for sale. And Charles and David Koch, the oil and gas billionaires who funded the rise of the Tea Party and spend millions every year to deny climate change and undermine clean air and clean water laws, want to buy it. The Koch brothers have no experience in or understanding of quality journalism, no commitment to community service. They would simply turn the Times into a platform for their radical ideology." A Common Cause petition urges the publisher of the LA Times to not sell the paper to the Koch brothers,

This action from Common Cause came only days after its president, former member of Congress, Rev. Bob Edgar, died at age 69 on April 23 of a heart attack while exercising at his home in Virginia. In a statement announcing his death, Common Cause said, "We are determined to honor his memory by continuing the work he pursued so passionately." 

Then on April 27, Common Cause went ahead with its media reform forum in Los Angeles entitled, "Good Grief: Who's Going to Cover LA News Now?"

I had meet Bob a few times. The last was only two weeks before his death, at a media reform conference in Denver, where he was thrilled to have a packed house for a a Common Cause screening of a film about the secretive, politically connected business group known as ALEC. His death is a huge loss to his family and colleagues, the country and many causes including media reform - Bob's eloquent soundbite, talking about the need for media justice and quoting Robert Kennedy Jr. closes the Save KLSD film that I co-produced with Jon Monday about media consolidation and the struggle of KLSD/AM 1360 radio in San Diego. Here is a link.

This is a partial transcript of the RFK quote: “Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world's ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.” 

I asked John Smith, Southern California field organizer for Common Cause, about Bob, and he said, "Bob Edgar could see the road ahead, he encouraged employees to take risks, he led by example, and he was the kind of boss we all wish we could have." And Simon Mayeski of San Diego (Tierrasanta), a California Common Cause board member, told me, "Common Cause has suffered an incredible and quite unexpected loss. Bob Edgar was not afraid to call out presidents and senators when he thought it necessary; in many ways, Bob Edgar took Common Cause back to its activist roots. He was not afraid to be arrested doing civil disobedience on the streets of Washington, D.C; my favorite Bob Edgar quote is from a blog post from 2011, following such an arrest. "Why get arrested?  Because it is time to move beyond words to actions."

Common Cause will not be able to replace Bob Edgar - you don't replace such an individual -  but we will find new leadership as we continue to do the work that Bob inspired us to do. We must: as Bob used to say, "We are the people that we have been waiting for." Bob was indeed a leading voice for truth and justice, and will be missed greatly.

Then on May 1, we learned President Obama nominated venture capitalist, Obama fundraiser, and former telecommunications lobbyist Tom Wheeler to head the FCC. Will he pursue the FCC's plan to kill the cross ownership ban, preventing companies from buying broadcast outlets if they own a newspaper in the same market? This cross ownership rule is a tiny measure to rein-in the power of media conglomerates and moguls like the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdoch/News Corporation and Doug Manchester (owner of the San Diego UT and our own mini-Murdoch) -- all of whom push a right-wing agenda and have been mentioned as interested in buying the LA Times.

That same day, Senator Bernie Sanders reminded us via Twitter that in 1983, 50 companies owned the vast majority of our mass media. Now, only 6 corporations do so: Disney, Viacom, CBS, Comcast, Time Warner and News Corporation. We may have 400 channels on television but only 6 ventrilogists, to paraphrase former Senator Byron Dorgan in "Save KLSD".  And ever since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, companies can own an infinite number of radio stations. Clear Channel once owned about 1200 stations, now it's down to 800-something, including 8 stations (the maximum in a large market) in San Diego. And yes, we have millions of websites, but TV and radio are still the dominant, free sources of mass media. More importantly, broadcasters use the public airwaves, a finite natural resource, and in exchange for that privilege, are supposed to be held accountable by the FCC to the public interest by providing local, diverse content. However, the FCC has fallen down on the job.

Wheeler is almost certain to be approved by the Senate and become FCC Chair. It's up to us, the public to give him a chance, but let's stay true to Bob Edgar and keep a watchful eye on Wheeler and his fellow commissioners and take action if needed to protect the public interest. As Bob said, "we need to stand up when others tell us to sit down and speak up when others tell us to be silent". That's what democracy is for.

 

Comments

Urgency for Media Reform

 

The difficulty of newspapers making a profit these days is tragic for the public - the selling price lowers -- people so rich they don't need to make profit buy it.  Their profit comes not from the news business, but from the political advantage they gain.  They hope to invest millions, and reap billions.  Most of the time they do.  In the last election it didn't work out quite so well for them, as the President pointed out in his remarks at the Correspondent's Dinner.