Media Coverage of Media Deregulation: Too Little, Too Late

The Pacifica radio network’s flagship program, Democracy Now!, featured a segment this week on the FCC’s current media deregulation crusade. It featured several guests, including whiz-bang media scholar Robert McChesney, Jeff Chester from the Center for Digital Democracy, and FCC Media Bureau chief W. Kenneth Ferree (who’s already scoffed at encouraging more public input on this issue as “an exercise in foot-stomping”).
While these three did the majority of the talking, a couple of other guests got some important words in edgewise. One of them was Mara Einstein, assistant professor of Media Studies at Queens College (CUNY). Einstein wrote one of the 12 studies the FCC released late last year to justify its current effort: hers was “Program Diversity and the Program Selection Process on Broadcast Network Television.”
Einstein began her comments by clarifying that, contrary to popular interpretation, her study did not conclude that program diversity on broadcast TV networks has increased. Instead, her research found that diversity on the network television landscape has remained basically unchanged throughout the last several years of industry deregulation and consolidation.
Reason: the dominant economic model of advertiser-supported TV, which directs networks to shoot for mass audiences – or, as she called it, “aggregating eyeballs.” Mass appeal abhors risk-taking so pabulum perpetuates itself on the vast wasteland.
McChesney and Chester spanked Ferree pretty damn nicely. The FCC stooge alternated between reading off a policy script and/or making snide comments about the criticism. Listen for yourself here (Real Player required).
It’s too bad the segment aired the week after the initial round of public comment closed on the issue. In that regard, Democracy Now! is in a lot of company: most of the nation’s largest newspapers just got around to publishing stories on the pending changes to media policy in the last week.
There is a long way to go before the tide turns and this current wave of corporate-friendly rule-changing is all but a done deal. That’s why I didn’t even bother filing comments on the proceeding – experience has taught that a citizen’s words will be ignored and concerns pooh-poohed.
Perhaps I will file replies to the comments submitted by all of the major media corporations. Something short and simple, like, “See you on the air.” People who want to rebut the statements filed in the FCC action to-date have until February 3 to do so.