There are many reasons that the scandal that's engulfing Rupert Murdoch has riveted public attention over the last seven days. It's a story that features all of the classic elements: twists of fate, betrayal, deception, abuse of power, and, even, murder.
But beneath Murdoch's meltdown lies a bigger problem, and its one that's not confined to the United Kingdom. It plagues all consolidated news organizations that reach a certain size and stature, but especially News Corp: The problem of media that get too cozy with power.
Two weeks ago, Free Press launched Change the Channels, a new campaign to uncover and fight covert consolidation, a practice whereby TV stations outsource their local news operations to their competitors resulting in less local competition and diversity, and sometimes even duplicate newscasts. We dubbed this trend “covert consolidation” because the stations involved often use contractual agreements and backroom deals to get around the FCC’s media ownership laws. But the results can be just as bad as outright consolidation.
There’s a concept in the law of free speech known as “the Heckler’s Veto.” It’s the idea that if a speaker creates such a stir that he is silenced to avoid enraging the audience—perhaps to the point of violence—then the audience, and the most unhinged among them, gets to determine the limits of free speech.
In the United States, that sort of thing is generally frowned upon.
scored a huge victory for the public interest.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the Federal
Communications Commission’s attempt to weaken its ownership rules and allow big
media companies to buy up even more local outlets.
In 2007, the
FCC ignored letters and calls from millions of Americans and tried to change
its media ownership rules to allow companies to own both newspapers and
broadcast stations in the same market. This change would have given individual
companies enormous – and unacceptable – control over your local media in print,
on TV, on the radio and even online.
Free Press and a coalition of public interest organizations challenged
the FCC in court, and today the court agreed that the FCC was wrong. The court
also upheld all other media consolidation restrictions and told the FCC it
needed to do better to support and foster diverse voices in the media – two
crucial decisions in the fight to build better media. With very few exceptions,
the court squarely rejected the big media companies’ arguments.
At a time when corporate control of our media and our democracy is
spinning out of control, this decision is a vital win.
A number of years ago, I was co-producer of a miniseries for the A&E Network called Biography of the Millennium. With the help of viewers, historians and other experts we chose those who were deemed to be the most important and influential people of the thousand years that began in the year 1001 A.D. and ended in the year 2000.