Thursday, April 15, 2004
As private interests have grown more and more willing to shell out big bucks to help keep their favorite politicians in office, major broadcasting companies have figured out how to cash in on the trend. Their profits from political advertising have gone through the roof while at the same time they have been cutting back on the news coverage that they provide about candidates and issues. (UPDATE: see this press release from Media General where the CEO says ""Strong presidential and primary campaign spending in Florida, North and South Carolina, Alabama and Iowa added significantly to our Broadcast results." ) This makes it all the harder for grassroots candidates to compete with those that raise the big bucks.
Well, there's now a window of opportunity to do something about this. The broadcasters are about to get a giant gift from you and me in the form of billions of dollars in public airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission is on the verge of converting our TV programming from analog to digital, which means that broadcasters will be able to put out 6 TV shows over the same frequency that they now put out one. This will mean six times the profits for the broadcasters. And, what are they planning to give back to the public for this free use of our property? Nothin. Nada. Zippo.
On top of this, the broadcasters now want the cable companies to have to carry all of their new channels. This is our chance to demand some small pittance back in return for the profitable use of our airwaves. The original deal we struck with broadcasters was that they could use our property if in return they agreed to put on programming that served the public interest. But, they've shirked this responsibility. In the last election, 40% of local stations didn't even cover local, state, or federal elections. This news coverage could be much more valuable to voters than the negative ads we get buried in (and which the stations profit from), but instead we get fluff and banter between the anchorman and the weatherperson.
After the FCC commissioners get done partying with the broadcasters at a big junket in Las Vegas this weekend, they'll get down to the business of giving out these additional broadcast rights. Now's the time to weigh in with the FCC and tell them that they should ask something back from the broadcasters by requiring them to set minimum standards for covering elections and civic affairs that every broadcaster must fulfill.
You can submit a comment to the FCC for them to consider as they ponder giving away your property for nothing. To do so, follow this link I just did it and it only took about 90 seconds.
You can learn more about this issue from the Alliance for Better Campaigns and Media for Democracy 2004. (These are good folks, even though they take a dig at the 1950 Studebaker. I happen to have one of these in my garage and think quite fondly of it.)