Stand Up for Local Media
Traditional news sources are facing a growing crisis and their response has been nothing short of infuriating. Rather than adapting to shrinking newspaper circulations, the emergence of YouTube and soaring ratings of The Daily Show with innovation, it appears that the conglomerates would rather spend their money on stifling free speech. Their attitude seems to be, “Why fix a problem when you can simply eliminate the competition?” It’s a lesson they apparently learned from watching The Godfather.
Like the Corleone family, Big Media has been making congressmen an offer they can’t refuse and after millions of dollars in campaign contributions, Big Media has discovered just how easy it can be to buy the Bill of Rights.
This may sound dramatic, but let’s take a look at the media’s latest victims. Predictably, they are minorities, women and the poor, three groups with considerably less influence than, say, Rupert Murdoch.
While there are many sins attributable to Big Media, I would like to focus on a specific example that demonstrates the influence of corporations in limiting the democratization of news sources. About seven years ago, Congress enacted a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission entitled Low Power FM. LPFM was intended to provide non-commercial educational broadcasting capabilities to a community of individuals falling within 3.5 miles of the station — not a large broadcasting range by any standard. Significantly, newspapers and broadcast media were forbidden from buying a LPFM station, thus leaving their ownership in the hands of the general populous.
The intention of LPFM was to provide underrepresented groups with increased opportunities to share their opinions and culture with their communities, thereby forging a connection with those around them. It sounds simple enough, but unfortunately, it took almost no time for Big Media to determine that LPFM was a threat, a dangerous presence designed to lure listeners away from their channels and to community stations instead.
The next step for these media corporations was to begin heavily pressuring congressmen to bury LPFM before it even got off the ground. Of course, Big Media had some (absurd) reasons for getting rid of LPFM that went beyond a fear of competition, such as the claim that low power would interfere with its giant 20 and 50,000 watt operations; however, nearly every engineer that is not hired by large media companies contradicts these assertions. You decide whom to believe.
You may be wondering why any of this really even matters. So, the retired guy across the street doesn’t get to vent about his problems on the air…no big deal, right? Well, it turns out it is a big deal, because this is just a symptom of a larger disease that infects mass media in this country. Nearly one-third of all Americans are minorities, and yet they own only 7% of all local radio and television stations. Women, despite making up more than half of the population, own just 6% of all local radio and television stations. There are large segments of our population that are not being seen or heard and Big Media continues to suppress their ability to communicate.
I believe that one of the reasons we watch movies, read newspapers and yes, listen to the radio is because it allows us the opportunity to hear varying viewpoints. Naturally, this assumes that the media allows for the divergent voice to present potentially challenging ideas, but it is most often the case that these perspectives are ignored due to actions such as halting LPFM.
While it may appear that Big Media wins when programs such as LPFM are abandoned, we know that is not actually the case. The same media that ignored the people now wakes up to a world of blogs, YouTube, and reality television. What once was halted could not be stopped forever. This was further proven by this month’s resurrection of House Bill 2802, otherwise known as the Local Community Radio Act, or LPFM. The bill has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and has survived seven years of Big Media opposition. I ask you now to not only encourage your congressmen to support this bill, but once it is passed, to embrace its opportunities by listening to your local stations and reflecting on the range of opinions that can be found within 3.5 miles of your home.