Most of us can identify the major national figures who have an impact on our lives: the Cheneys, the Clintons, the Richardsons. Few would probably know the name Kevin Martin. He's the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and his actions Tuesday, Dec. 18, reduced your options in this media-soaked environment.
Martin’s Republican-majority FCC lifted a 32-year-old rule that stops someone from owning a newspaper and broadcasting station in the 20 biggest markets. He pushed this vote even though a bipartisan group of senators asked him to delay it,, and FCC commissioners have had hardly any time to negotiate the ins and outs of the situation. In short, Martin, prompted by the Bush administration, just kind of sprung this on everyone.
Why should you care? First, local news coverage in those large markets could shrink away, with the controlling business forces scaling down newsrooms to only the bare bones. Remember: The more people competing for truth, the more likely we are to get it.
As elections unfold, do you really want a couple of big players controlling the information you receive? With fewer corporations owning more media outlets, anyone with an alternate view is less likely to get a chance to voice his or her opinions.
Finally, do you already feel as though you're hearing the same couple of news stories leading the day in all the papers and all the news shows?
Don't let them convince you that it's you, that they're just responding to market pressures and everybody wants the same thing. Without real competition, your choices are few and far between, and your information base dwindles. You will know what they want you to know. You will like what they want you to like. And when I say "they," you’ll know I'm not speaking so generally.
In fact, "they" already account for about 10 conglomerates, the third-largest being News Corporation, run by everyone's favorite billionaire Republican, Rupert Murdoch. The first two? Time Warner and Disney. How do you like them apples, 2008 election cycle?
Martin's arguing the Internet makes the old ownership rules obsolete and lifting them will help save some newspapers, shivering giants in a world that moved on without them. But even though everyone can start a blog these days, and members of my generation are more likely to get their news from a Murdoch-owned MySpace bulletin, the most powerful media outlets with the broadest audiences are still palmed by a few mega-corps.
If media companies were people, I'd rather see a sea of skinny, hungry guys trying to wave down our attention with interesting, solid stories than one big fat-ass spitting out a lazy word here and there, a politician on his massive, sloping shoulder whispering in his ear.