We just mentioned the William Safire editorial calling for a rally against the apparently-inevitable FCC deregulation of media ownership rules. It seems as though everyone BUT mega media and the three Republican FCC Commissioners are against the loosening, but big media opinion seems to beholding sway – why is that??
Maybe this is one of the reasons:
- Vegas. Rio. ‘Frisco. Paris. The Big Easy. Over the past eight years, Federal Communications Commission officials have taken 2,500 business trips to global tourist spots, most of which were paid for by the media and telecommunications companies the agency oversees, according to a study to be released today.
….FCC officials accepted $2.8 million in free trips, mainly to industry conventions, academic symposia and technical forums. The top destination — Las Vegas, with 330 trips — is the site of many media industry conventions, such as annual gatherings put on by the National Association of Broadcasters. The second-most popular destination for FCC officials was New Orleans, with 173 trips, followed by New York (102 trips) and London (98 trips), the study said.
The NAB paid the most, spending $191,472 on trips, the study said, followed by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association ($172,636) and the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association ($149,285). Last November, a group of technology firms paid $2,646 to fly FCC Commissioner Kathleen Q. Abernathy to a two-day conference in Montpellier, France.
….The Center for Public Integrity describes itself as a 40-person, nonpartisan watchdog group. The FCC study was funded by a $300,000 grant from the Ford Foundation and $100,000 from the Open Society Institute, run by millionaire philanthropist George Soros, Lewis said. The group has released such travel studies in the past, which are based on FCC public filings.
….”I’m not crazy about having the industry pick up the tab, but I think it is the second-best option we have in tight fiscal times like now,” the study quotes Robert Pepper, chief of the FCC’s office of plans and policy, as saying. “The other option is for us to just stay home. That doesn’t benefit anyone.” [Washington Post]
I am not suggesting that these are flat out bribes – it’s much more complicated than that, but this kind of symbiotic cozy relationship between regulator and regulatee inevitably leads to both the reality of empathetic thinking and at least the appearance of undue influence. Interesting timing on the part of the study.
Another clever part of the study looked at media ownership in the hometowns of the five commissioners as examples of how local ownership of the media in the nation has dwindled since 1996 when the FCC most recently loosened its regulations on media ownership:
- The ownership study in the five cities reveals:
Of the 203 commercial radio stations in the five home towns, 48 are owned by four publicly traded, out-of-state radio conglomerates. Twenty-seven of those are owned by radio giant Clear Channel Communications.
The cable systems in the five communities are controlled by four companies. AOL Time Warner owns systems in Charlotte, N.C., and Milwaukee; Birmingham’s system is owned by Advance/Newhouse, which is also programmed by AOL Time Warner; Louisville’s system is owned by Insight Communications Co., the nation’s ninth-largest cable company. Only the Rapid City system is locally owned.
Of the 20 network affiliates in the five cities, 15 are owned by out-of-state companies, including two each by News Corp. (Fox Entertainment Group) and Hearst-Argyle Television Inc. (a division of Hearst Corp.).
- One issue that has gotten little attention during the review has been the idea that the airwaves are the property of the public, and the companies that use them have a responsibility to the public at large. Media titan Barry Diller, former programming chief at ABC, chairman of Paramount Pictures and creator of the Fox Network, said as much to an audience at the NAB convention in April.
Diller dismissed the idea that the unprecedented proliferation of media outlets has created any more competition than the days when three networks ruled television and radio.
While the network oligopoly of the past “might have controlled 90 percent of what people saw,” he said, “they operated with a sense of public responsibility that simply doesn’t exist with these vertically integrated giant media conglomerates driven only to fit the next piece of their puzzle for world media dominance.”