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Saturday, June 07, 2003

You’re On The Air

I wrote my rambling piece on the subject of media concentration and the FCC vote a few days ago – not my best work – and I wanted to give it a crack, in part because Hayden disagrees (shocker!) with me:

…no constitutional guarantee that the number of sitar music-based bands have to have the same number of millionaires as Top 40-based bands - or that well-reviewed bands or bands that take unpopular political positions have any right to get their songs played on the radio station they want. What the FCC seems to have done is allow capitalism to take its merry course (oh, and Adam Smith and the Invisible Hands would be a cool name for a band).

Again, I reiterate – the airwaves are a public resource. Or at least they should be.

If they are going to cease to be a public resource – if we’re going to sell (or lease) the airwaves to the highest bidder and “let capitalism run its merry course” - then at least the public ought to be getting a better deal for this resource than it is getting at present. If the rights of the owners are to become more absolute – a trend the FCC has been moving towards in the last few decades even before this particular vote – the owners ought to be paying the king’s ransom for these licenses that they most assuredly are worth.

But until that day…

Whose right it is to decide what gets heard on public resources? In a democracy, it should be everyone’s.

I could go on and on here, but I only want to mention one issue that nothing to do with “sitar-based music bands” or even “unpopular political positions.” That issue is local news; National chains routinely take over local stations and, to cut costs, don’t do local news anymore.

Mind you, I am not at all saying it would be a good thing if the government itself actively took a role in what got broadcast and what did not. In fact, I’m fairly sure the end result would be at least as bad as what we have now.

What I am saying is that it fast becoming the case that a smaller and smaller handful of corporate entities are assuming for themselves the role a Communist country would have the state play. As fewer and fewer people get to decide what gets exposure, the distinction between public and private censorship becomes less and less useful. When there enough actors in the marketplace, this is not terribly worrisome.

I might also add that the flow of information is the most essential prong to a well-functioning democracy. Without it, the populace cannot truly govern themselves.

Private sector, unaccountable power is at least as dangerous as public sector, unaccountable power.

It’s as if conservatives and libertarians don’t believe in private power, and have this construct of “freedom” that deliberately ties everything to property.

And, by the way, “Adam Smith and the Invisible Hand” would make an awful name for a band.


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