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 voted on 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.