On December 18, the Federal Communications Commission voted by a 3-2 vote to loosen regulations to allow more media consolidation.
You probably didn't hear much about it because our nation's "Big Media" stands to profit from it. They'd rather tell you about what celebrity is pregnant this week.
But this decision - and other recent FCC similar recent rulings - should be of grave concern to every American. Allow me to explain why.
First, the aforementioned FCC vote lifted a longtime newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban. The rule prevented the same company from owning both a television or radio station in the same market as a newspaper.
On its face, that doesn't sound too sinister. Like most Americans, I favor free enterprise and less government regulation. And as a newspaper owner myself, I could potentially stand to benefit from the loosening of this restriction as well.
The problem is this: The press isn't like other industries. Journalism is the only profession protected by the U.S. Constitution. And for good reason.
"The only security of all is in a free press," said Thomas Jefferson. "The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed."
What this FCC ruling will do is allow more corporations to own more media outlets. When more corporations own more media outlets, obviously, the corporation's interests will come first, and not the public's. We already see the danger of this, as our national TV networks - ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox - are all now owned by giant corporations. They have not handled these conflicts of interest well, in my estimation, and the public's trust in the media has suffered.
Basically, what we have currently is a two-party system of government, with both parties being controlled by big business or special interests. When one party is in power, those corporate or special interests are served. The media is supposed to be the watchdog - alerting and informing the populace about what is going on in their community or world and with their tax-supported institutions. But when the media is also a part of big business, you have a "fox guarding the henhouse" situation. This scenario is certainly not what is best for our nation's citizens.
Why did the FCC lift this ban?
Connect the dots. The chairman of the FCC, who cast the tie-breaking vote, is Kevin Martin, formerly a lawyer for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Martin's wife is on President Bush's staff. Big business got its way.
"Today's decision would make George Orwell proud," said FCC commissioner Michael Copps, who voted against the change. "We claim to be giving the news industry a shot in the arm, but the real effect is to reduce total newsgathering."
Copps claims media consolidation will result is less news staff and coverage of local issues. Martin claims newspapers are "an endangered species" and this move "will improve the health of the newspaper industry."
I beg to differ. The death of newspapers has long been predicted for centuries. While large daily newspapers are currently suffering due to competition from the Internet and other market factors, community newspapers are thriving nationwide.
The need for information is as great as it ever was. Newspapers just have to adapt to changing reader habits.
Also, I don't think it's the FCC's responsibility to rescue private businesses, like newspapers. But I do believe it's the FCC's responsibility to serve the public. And allowing our press to become less independent is not in the best interests of our nation.
Len Robbins is editor and publisher of The Clinch County News.