AS THIS IS written, the Federal Communications Commission is, again, preparing to rule on a revision of its media ownership rules that could, again, allow the few remaining mass media conglomerates to own even more of what are currently competing local news outlets. For one thing, the proposed revision would allow Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation to have its Los Angeles and Chicago TV stations and eat the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune, too.
Five years ago, the Bush administration's FCC commissioners tried this move, but it was routed in a decision by a federal appeals court. But, just in time to quash any illusions that a second Obama administration might be less friendly to corporate power, Julius Genachowski, the Obama-appointed FCC chair, tried, at the end of 2012, to quietly slip in this new set of Murdoch-friendly ownership rules. The only reason it may not have happened already is because he raised the issue at the same time that an FCC report on minority media ownership arrived showing the share of outlets owned by people of color to be only 2.2 percent for commercial full-power television and 6.2 percent for commercial AM radio. This, needless to say, raises questions about the wisdom of further media consolidation.
Over the decades, this column has spilled a lot of ink on the subjects of the FCC, media policy, and, especially, media ownership. I haven't obsessed over these issues because of any love for the details of broadband allocation and other regulatory minutiae. In fact, I struggle to understand some of those matters just well enough to try and explain why they are important. But they are important, mostly because deregulated and monopolistic mass media impinge upon our ability to effectively exercise our God-given free will and participate rationally in the process of self-government.
To me, the case keeps coming back to two words: Rupert Murdoch. I know that Murdoch isn't the whole issue here. And I know that even Murdoch is capable of goodness as well as evil—in 1989, his Fox TV network bankrolled the development of The Simpsons and has kept the show on the air ever since. But that will make for a slim portfolio when the 81-year-old tycoon someday pleads his case before the pearly gates.
And on that day there will be plenty of evidence for the prosecution. When Murdoch branched out from his native Australia into England, one of his first innovations was to place pictures of bare-breasted women on page three of a general circulation daily paper. It's been all downhill from there. We now know that staff at his British newspapers listened in on the telephone calls of private citizens. We also know that those same newspapers regularly paid bribes to the police. That, by the way, would seem to put Murdoch's U.S.-based News Corp in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials. The Justice Department is looking into it, and may do something in a couple of years or so.
But the best evidence against allowing Murdoch to exercise more influence over the flow of information in America is the existence of Fox News. Those of us who enjoy the mixed blessing of living among ordinary people out in the middle of the country know how thoroughly Fox's 24/7 propaganda onslaught has crippled public discourse. A significant portion of our fellow citizens now believe fervently and, I fear, unshakably in things (such as the "war on Christmas" and Iraq's supposed connection to 9/11) that are simply not true.
Strict regulation of media ownership has to be reinstated, if only to limit the power of the Murdoch machine.
Danny Duncan Collum teaches writing at Kentucky State University in Frankfort. He is the author of the novel White Boy. For details on how to take action, check out freepress.net.