An important public deadline passed on Oct. 31. Did you notice it? No? Well, you’re hardly alone. Halloween was the last day for citizens to file comments or objections with the Federal Communications Commission regarding the renewal of radio broadcasting licenses in South Carolina. You say you didn’t hear anything about this deadline on any local radio stations? Neither did I. At the time I wrote this column, I had yet to read anything about it in the good old Post and Courier. Apparently, it was a pretty well kept secret.
I assume all the radio stations in South Carolina got their broadcasting licenses renewed without challenge, and they are free to blast pretty much any damn thing they want to over the public airways for the next eight years with little regard for the public interest. But that’s the kind of FCC we have today. After decades of ceaseless lobbying and wheedling by the broadcast media giants, the agency that was created to regulate the public airways is pretty much a toothless tiger.
Ever heard of covert consolidation? It’s happening all over the country, including right here in Charleston. Television stations are cutting back staff and news coverage by sharing personnel and production facilities. It’s not sanctioned by the FCC, but it’s not banned either. So the practice goes on. In fact, it seems to be accelerating as television stations cut back. But what they are cutting is the very information that citizens require to understand what is going on around them. It’s a simple formula: fewer journalists mean less information, which means a less informed public.
Would you like to see what covert consolidation looks like? Go to MediaReformSC.org. Hit the “Covert Consolidation in Action” link. There you will see side-by-side news footage of local CBS affiliate WCSC and Fox affiliate WTAT. Not only are several of the faces the same, but they are reading the same scripts. It’s nothing less than surreal to watch these two newscasts play together, and it’s nothing less than frightening to understand what they mean for our democracy.
This little exercise in media monitoring was brought to you by MediaReformSC, an effort of local citizens to gain some control over the reckless, corporate-owned, profit-driven media that saturate our culture.
Full disclosure: I am a member of MRSC. A handful of us started meeting last January to talk about the threat of corporate media and what we could do about it. Since then, we have launched our website and started taking action. Several members of the group went to look through the public records of two local television stations in September. We didn’t find any smoking guns, but it was refreshing to demonstrate that broadcasters are subject to FCC regulations and citizens have the right to review designated company records.
The group was organized and is led by Faye Steuer, a retired College of Charleston psychology professor. Steuer became interested in media years ago when she was studying the effects of television programming on children. Even with ample evidence that television harms children, the TV industry refused to change, Steuer says. This led her to a more general study of media in democracy.
“I’ve been saddened by what I’ve found out,” she says. “I hope MRSC will get more people involved and that, eventually, we can make positive changes in the variety and veracity of information available to the American people.”
The greatest casualty of our corporate media is democracy itself, Steuer says. “The most basic requirement for a healthy democracy is that its citizens have to be well-informed. In order to make truly wise decisions regarding leaders and policies, they need news media to provide timely, factual, verifiable information on a multitude of topics. Unfortunately, corporate media have been falling down on the job, limiting news coverage according to the corporate agenda and too often allowing opinions to substitute for facts.”
There is a multitude of media-related issues that need to be examined in the Charleston area, South Carolina, and the nation. Among them: Who owns our newspapers and radio and television stations and what is their agenda? And who will control access to the internet? The nation’s largest telephone and cable companies want to be internet gatekeepers, deciding which websites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all. These are some of the problems MRSC hopes to bring to light now that it is up and running.
If any of these issues worry you, go to MediaReformSC.org to learn more. And if you didn’t have a chance to challenge the state’s radio license renewals, don’t despair. We have until Oct. 31, 2012, to challenge the state’s television licenses. Maybe next time we will be ready.
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