A coalition of media-activist groups unveiled a "Bill of Media Rights" today, which they insist must be included in any major media- or telecommunications-overhaul legislation. The provisions are aimed at turning back the effects of increasing corporate ownership of broadcast stations, cable systems and newspapers since media-ownership rules were deregulated by the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
The coalition represents 116 groups, including Common Cause, the United Church of Christ, the AFL-CIO, the Future of Music Coalition and the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Media provisions of the 1996 deregulation were negotiated largely by lawmakers and industry, with virtually no input from the public at large, complained Gene Kimmelman, Consumers Union senior director of policy. Building upon the organizing that was conducted to oppose another round of deregulation in 2003, they can ensure citizens are heard this time, the groups say, by tapping the 20 million citizens who have joined their ranks in the years since. “The coalition coming together today is the galvanizing starting point to bringing back citizen-led democracy to the halls of Congress to press the points of view that were not heard effectively in 1996," the groups state.
The consequences of the resulting consolidation since 1996 include escalating cable prices, diminished ownership of media outlets by minorities, and a decline in the amount of political coverage and children's programming.
Supporters of consolidation counter that deregulation strengthened the financial health of media outlets by allowing sufficient profitability to attract Wall Street financing. In the meantime, diversity of viewpoints and access to political information is greater than ever before because of the proliferation of Internet access and Web sites since the act passed.
The groups are calling on Congress to enact 15 provisions they believe will lead to lower prices for pay-TV and other services, more competition and greater diversity of viewpoints expressed in major communications outlets. The provisions include requirements for locally produced programming; restrictions on cross-ownership of broadcast stations, cable systems and newspapers in the same market; requirements for political and civic programming; more frequent and "rigorous" license renewals; and media employment ranks that "reflect the presence and voices of people of color, women, labor, immigrants, Americans with disabilities and other communities often misrepresented."
“We will engage the public to promote media policies for the 21st century that truly provide diversity of viewpoints and ownership, that provide competition and innovation and ensure our access to a free and unfettered marketplace of ideas," said Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause. "Without these values, and without the public's access to the information people need to govern themselves, our is country at risk, our democracy is at risk."
This coming weekend, 2,000 anti-consolidation activists will rally in St. Louis to build momentum for upcoming legislation over ending the switch to DTV and rewriting communications laws. Convened by advocacy group Free Press, speakers include FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein; Reps. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), comedian Al Franken; pioneering alt-rocker Patti Smith; TV host Phil Donahue; Janine Jackson of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting; David Brock of Media Matters for America; Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen; and author and Free Press Founder Robert McChesney.