4/16/2006

Open letter to FCC Chairman Martin

April 16, 2006

FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554

Television is the most powerful educational tool in history and could be used much more effectively to keep the general population informed. The airwaves belong to the public, but this great educational tool is being squandered away by private corporations interested only in profit. Meanwhile, the informational needs of the public go unmet.

Consider the state of the union today from a citizen's point-of-view:

1) U.S. troops are occupying Iraq in a war that could have been prevented if television news had been used in the public interest. In the lead-up to the war, virtually all of the national news stations and cable stations banged their drums for war. Voices of truth who knew that the war was based on lies from day one had no mass media forum to express their views other than the internet.

But the internet alone is not enough. Television could have been used as a national forum for inquiry and education about Iraq, but the corporations have so much control over news content that it becomes easy to simplify and manipulate the news through sheer repetition. How many times did we hear Condoleezza Rice's references to the "mushroom cloud"?

The manner in which news is presented should be a critical part of the FCC licensing process. All news and news-related programming offered by CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CBS, ABC, NBC and PBS are hosted by moderates (presented as "liberals") and/or conservatives. Genuine alternative positions are rarely presented. More programming like Democracy Now should be widely available because this is what genuine public interest programming looks like when stacked up against the formula programming offered by the mass media barons. The media corporations will not provide public interest news programming on their own, so it will be up to Congress and the FCC to ensure that the public interest standard is met.

2) Political campaigns are presented in the media as popularity contests -- all style and no substance. Television could be used to educate the public about the past record, financial ties, and opinions of the candidates, but all we get are slick PR commercials and attack ads. These ads should be stopped and replaced by nonpartisan, factual candidate information spots and unscripted televised debates that allow unscreened audience questions.

3) Pharmaceutical companies are big businesses that provide a lot of advertising revenue to stations, but there is no way for consumers to find out about preventative medicine techniques or alternative therapies unless they do their own research. All we get are a barrage of ads promoting this or that drug product and stating possible side effects. Drug advertising is a disservice to the public and to the medical profession and increases consumer prices for these medications.

4) It is important to keep the internet as it is by not allowing private corporations to carve it up for their own profits at the expense of alternative news and information. As it is today, the internet is the last bastion of democracy in the United States and it must be defended strongly by the FCC against the corporate broadband wolves.

In 1934, the FCC was given a broad mandate to grant licenses in order to promote “the public interest, convenience and necessity” and “full power to investigate and study the business of existing companies." As a result of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, however, I believe the 1934 public interest mandate is not given nearly enough weight and that the FCC Commissioners ought to examine the cause-and-effect relationship between corporate ownership of the mass media and the absolute failure of these corporations to provide critical news and information in the public interest.

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