If FCC backs lo­cal mo­nop­o­lies, fake news is only the be­gin­ning

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - OPINION - By Sue Wil­son

What would hap­pen if the politi­cian you love to hate were in­dicted, but your lo­cal news didn’t re­port it? No news­pa­per sto­ries, no TV news, no ra­dio news on the hour, noth­ing. Couldn’t hap­pen? Think again. The Repub­li­can-con­trolled Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion will vote Nov. 16 to al­low just one cor­po­ra­tion to own the lo­cal news­pa­per plus nearly ev­ery com­mer­cial TV sta­tion in your town. Nifty way to re­duce down to just one newsroom then dic­tate what­ever in­for­ma­tion that cor­po­ra­tion does — and does not — want you to know in this democ­racy.

It’s ex­actly what’s hap­pened with ra­dio. Back in the day when lots of com­pa­nies owned 40 ra­dio sta­tions, the broad­cast in­dus­try made big prom­ises that lo­cal in­for­ma­tion would be much more di­verse if they could sim­ply own many more sta­tions. The 1996 Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Act re­sulted in a hand­ful of cor­po­ra­tions own­ing thou­sands of sta­tions — and force feed­ing con­ser­va­tive pro­gram­ming down our coun­try’s throats ever since, no de­bate, no opposing opin­ions al­lowed.

The Me­dia Ac­tion Cen­ter showed dur­ing the Scott Walker re­call in Wis­con­sin that “con­ser­va­tive” ra­dio gi­ants there gave mil­lions of dol­lars in free air­time to the GOP can­di­date — while re­fus­ing to al­low a sin­gle Demo­crat on the air at all. GOP op­er­a­tives there still gloat about ra­dio win­ning elec­tions for them. After 21 years of this kind of di­vi­sive public pol­icy, 60 mil­lion peo­ple lis­ten to con­ser­va­tive ra­dio, about the same num­ber that voted for Don­ald Trump.

Now the FCC is qui­etly try­ing to do the same thing to our lo­cal TV sta­tions. In 2003, when they just tried to al­low TV sta­tions to own news­pa­pers, 3 mil­lion peo­ple rose up and said “No!” Now they want to al­low the news­pa­pers plus all the TV sta­tions in one town to have the same owner, and they’re not even ask­ing for public comment.

Mean­while, FCC Com­mis­sion­ers are in a PR frenzy to have us be­lieve TV is dy­ing. Chair Ajit V. Pai tweeted “Among Amer­i­cans aged 18-29, on­line stream­ing is pri­mary means of watch­ing TV.”

Com­mis­sioner Michael O’Rielly, cit­ing Pew Re­search, writes: “By 2016, only 46 per­cent of re­spon­dents viewed broad­cast TV as a source of news and 38 per­cent ‘got news yes­ter­day’ from an on­line source,” then talks about peo­ple get­ting news from Google and Face­book.

But what mat­ters is not whether we stream on a de­vice or watch on a big screen. What mat­ters is the in­tegrity and di­ver­sity of our in­for­ma­tion.

Google and Face­book don’t pro­duce news or hire re­porters to fer­ret out what’s go­ing on at City Hall or the state Capi­tol or White House. That’s the ter­rain of news­pa­pers and TV broad­cast­ers.

In­de­pen­dent on­line news or­ga­ni­za­tions are grow­ing, but their in­flu­ence is neg­li­gi­ble: Ac­cord­ing to Au­gust 2017 Pew stud­ies, about 52 mil­lion peo­ple watch lo­cal TV news, com­pared to about 23 mil­lion who ac­cess dig­i­tally pro­duced news, but those 23 mil­lion peo­ple may visit the on­line news sites just once a month — for an av­er­age of just 2.4 min­utes. The FCC’s ar­gu­ment doesn’t hold up.

So why does the broad­cast in­dus­try want the FCC to con­sol­i­date to such an alarm­ing de­gree? It’s not money. For­tune Mag­a­zine cites record in­dus­try prof­its, with BIA/ Kelsey re­port­ing that lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tion rev­enue reached $28.4 bil­lion in 2016. They’re rolling in the dough, so why the sud­den push to change things?

We know why. We know why Sin­clair Broad­cast­ing, renowned for its alt-right ed­i­to­ri­al­iz­ing over our public air­waves, wants to reach 72 per­cent of U.S. homes with its pro­pa­ganda. We know this White House’s agenda. We know what hap­pens when we al­low just a few com­pa­nies to con­trol ev­ery­thing we read, see and hear. We know.

Me­dia re­form group Free Press Pres­i­dent Craig Aaron says if the FCC doesn’t aban­don this plan, “they’ll find them­selves back in court for fail­ing to study the is­sue, take public in­put, and ad­dress the fact that so few sta­tions are owned by women and peo­ple of color. We’ve won this fight be­fore, and we can pre­vail again.”

They won this fight be­fore be­cause 3 mil­lion Amer­i­cans stood up for free speech.

Stand up. You can email the FCC, call your rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Congress and sup­port Free Press’ le­gal case. Find links at Me­di­aAc­tionCen­ter.net.

This is a wa­ter­shed mo­ment. Ten years from now, peo­ple could look at their lo­cal news re­port­ing and won­der how it ever went so wrong. You’ve heard of fake news? You ain’t seen noth­ing yet.

Sue Wil­son is ed­i­tor of suewil­son­re­ports.com and founder of the Me­dia Ac­tion Cen­ter. She wrote this for the Sacra­mento Bee.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.