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The News, Homogenized

Editorial for June 12, 2003

On June 2, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to "relax" rules governing corporate ownership of newspapers, television stations, and radio stations.

The controversial decision allows one company to own television stations that reach as much as 45 percent of the American people.

It allows one company to own a newspaper, a television station, and a radio station in the same city.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell -- the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell -- supported the new rules, and said it won't result in television programming that is "radically different than they have seen for decades."

Maybe. But basically, the FCC will now allow one or two news outlets to stack the deck. It means that a particular corporation will be allowed to blanket the public airwaves with its own particular slant.

In short, media consolidation means fewer individuals will control more of the news that reaches the citizens of the United States.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican, said he was concerned about what the decision could mean: "This might deprive Americas of diversity and localization of their news and information," he said.

McCain is right. It's dangerous to a democracy to allow a handful of powerful corporate bosses to decide which "news" stores will reach the American people. This misguided -- or politically-motivated -- vote by the FCC clears the way for a virtual information monopoly.

Already, the news you get depends on who is running the show. Turn on your television news station today, and CNN might tell you the biggest issue of the day is the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But Fox News might tell you it's the Laci Peterson murder case.

The FCC's move is likely to stifle media competition and drive out the little guys from the market. Think of it this way, for example: You like to shop at Thriftway in White Salmon, but Thriftway gets bought up by Wal-Mart. The store may keep the same name, but now its corporate owner is Wal-Mart, and in the store are products Wal-Mart is pushing. And what do you think would happen to The Creamery if Starbucks were to gobble it up?

It's the same with news and information. If the chairman of the board of a media giant, sitting in Los Angeles, decides that the people ought to be fed endless details of what is, in essence, a court case that has no bearing on the lives and fortunes of the American people, that's what you'll get.

The FCC vote will make the political distraction game (Politics 101) easier: Never mind this economic problem over here that may cost you and your neighbor a job -- EVERYONE LOOK OVER HERE at this tantalizing court drama!

The FCC vote was "along partisan political lines," with the three Republican commissioners voting "Yes" and the two Democratic commissioners voting "No."

That brings up another basic question: why do FCC commissioners have partisan labels in the first place? That in itself is wrong.

It's vital to the health of our political system for the citizenry to have access to a variety of news sources. Our news shouldn't be mass-produced like the food at McDonald's.

This vote may soon translate into the loss of America's intellectual independence. Shame of the FCC.

JB

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