The free flow of news and information, accessible to everyone, is vital to the success of democracy.
And today in America, that flow is in doubt.
Our newspapers, traditionally the most reliable source of civic information and investigative reporting, are laying off reporters and editors by the hundreds, canceling editions and often shutting down entirely. Broadcasters also are making severe cuts, so state, local and federal government offices that once were closely scrutinized now operate in the shadows.
Meanwhile, though the explosive growth of the internet has moved massive amounts of public information into the public domain, the limited availability and/or high cost of broadband – particularly in rural and low-income areas – means that millions of citizens can’t reach that information and are shut out of our new digital public square.
Following, are 9 key facts about the media which most people do not know:
FACT: Viacom owns CBS; General Electric owns NBC; Disney owns ABC; and News Corporation owns Fox Broadcasting Company. ABC's corporate parent is the Walt Disney Company.
Disney owns 10 television stations, 50 radio stations, ESPN, A&E, the History Channel, Discover magazine, Hyperion publishing, Touchstone Pictures, and Miramax Film Corp.
Viacom owns 39 television stations, 184 radio stations, The Movie Channel, BET, Nickelodeon, TV Land, MTV, VH1, Simon & Schuster publishing, Scribner, and Paramount Pictures.
General Electric owns 13 television stations, CNBC, MSNBC, and Bravo.
News Corp. owns 26 television stations, FX, Fox News Channel, TV Guide, the Weekly Standard, New York Post, DirecTV, the publisher HarperCollins, film production company Twentieth Century Fox and the social networking website MySpace.
Currently, six major companies control most of the media in our country. The FCC could decide to relax media ownership rules, which would allow further consolidation and put decisions about what kinds of programming and news Americans receive in even fewer hands.
FACT: Since 1995, the number of companies owning commercial TV stations declined by 40 percent.
If the FCC votes to relax media ownership limits, it could further erode diversity of ownership at the local level and increase the influence of large media conglomerates. In 2003, the regulations restricting a broadcast company from owning stations that reach beyond 35% of American households were loosened to 39%.
FACT: Three media giants own all of the cable news networks. Comcast and AOL Time Warner serve 40 percent of cable households.
Many proponents of deregulation site the expanded numbers of cable stations to argue that media sources are more diverse than they once were. The reality is that -- while there may be more stations -- they are still controlled by a small number of media companies.
FACT: Cable TV rates have jumped 40 percent since the Telecom Act of 1996.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was, in part, meant to increase competition in the cable industry. The Act was heavily influenced by industry lobbyists and has had the opposite effect.
FACT: The Telecommunications Act of 1996 lifted ownership limits for radio stations, leading to incredible consolidation of radio station ownership. One company alone, Clear Channel Inc., now owns nearly 1,200 radio stations across the country. Before the change, a company could not own more than 40 stations nationwide.
Several large stations owned by Clear Channel briefly banned the music of the Dixie Chicks because of their critical comments about President George W. Bush. Stations owned by Infinity have also banned certain musicians based on their political views.
FACT: Major corporations, including AOL Time Warner, the New York Times, CNN, ABC News and USA Today dominate the top Internet news sites.
EFFECT on DEMOCRACY
FACT: The public owns the airwaves and the FCC grants licenses to broadcasters with the understanding they will serve the public interest.
To their corporate owners, media outlets do not exist to promote the public interest; they exist to make profits. But media companies don't manufacture widgets; they provide information. And information from diverse, competitive, and independent sources is vitally important to the health of a democracy.
FACT: The nation’s largest broadcast companies that will benefit from looser ownership standards have given more than $13.3 million in political contributions to federal candidates and national parties since 1995. These same media giants have spent more than $68 million lobbying Washington since 1999.
With their political clout, media giants have the ability to make their case heard at the FCC, the White House and Capitol Hill. The concerns of average citizens do not get the same attention from key policymakers.
FACT: The FCC is in the process of making important decisions that will have a significant impact on our democracy. This appointed body is doing so without distributing the proposed regulations for public review and without allowing for adequate public review and comment.
"It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to countenance monopolization of that market, whether it be by the Government itself or a private licensee. It is the right of the public to receive suitable access to social, political, esthetic, moral, and other ideas and experiences which is crucial here. That right may not constitutionally be abridged either by Congress or by the FCC."
--U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1969 case of Red Lion v. FCC