>Mitigating the Impact of Media Consolidation
>Jeff Perlstein is the Executive Director of Media Alliance, a 25 year old
>San Francisco based nonprofit training and resource center for media
>workers, community organizations, and political activists. Media Alliance's
>mission is excellence, ethics, diversity, and accountability in all aspects
>of the media in the interests of peace, justice, and social responsibility.
>Jeff will discuss the role of Media Alliance in addressing the increasing
>consolidation of the media and its impact on maintaining an informed
Jeff began his talk by putting media consolidation into perspective a bit. He quoted a very alarmed Journalism Professor who said that "consolidation in the media was leading to a dearth of alternative voices," and then pointed out that in the late 1940s, when the quote was penned, the American media were owned by about 50 different organizations. By the 1970s the number had fallen closer to 20, and now there are 7 major media empires.
The ownership situation does not tell the whole story. Until the late 1970s, there was a fairness doctrine that meant alternative voices were given two or three minutes of air time on radio and TV stations to offer counterpoints to the viewpoints expressed during the newscast. This has since been discontinued, along with much of the regulatory framework which used to require a certain amount of public service air time. In those days, proving you were providing a public service was part of the price of renewing an FCC license. Today the procedure is to literally just mail in a post card.
One of the major consolidation points was the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed broadcasters to own an unlimited number of stations whereas they had previously been limited to 40. In addition to this, the number of stations one company could own in any one media market climbed from three to eight. Since that time, the consolidation has proceeded at a breakneck pace. Media empires have even started to buy out public broadcasting outlets and replace them with commercial stations.
Clear Channel Communications is a case in point. It has gone from 40 stations to 1200 in the past seven years. In their consolidation, they have done things like reduce the staffs of stations from a dozen people with jobs that are part of the local economy to one or two engineers, and a few people doing shifts for many stations simultaneously out of cubes in Oklahoma or some place like that. This media consolidation strategy has clear-cut most of the local content on the air in places they serve.
For an example of a better story, Jeff pointed to the Pacifica network. KPFA had managed to fend off a takeover by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and maintain its independent quality. He asked us to consider the enormous pressure that this one tiny network with five stations has to deal with, being the only truly progressive voice on the entire radio dial. The internal and external pressures on the staff are enormous, and the media alliance has worked with them in the past, and continues to work with them as opportunities present themselves.
For more info: http://www.media-alliance.org/
A response from a reader:
>there are alternatives www.radio4all.net