How Mainstream Media Comforts the Comforted

Public Airwaves MythThese days it’s hard to argue with those who believe the major political struggle in this country is not between the Left and the Right but is between the top and the bottom, especially when you consider that the stock market reached record levels this year, U.S. productivity has never been better, the fortunes of the top 1% of the country have reached epic proportions, yet average Americans continue to struggle to make ends meet with incomes that have remained stagnant for the past 30 years.

It seems that no matter how well we do as a nation, the fruits of our labor only benefit a few, while the vast majority continues to barely hang on.

When I was dating my husband, one of the few arguments we had was about the similarities and differences between the two major political parties. I maintained that the tug of war we see played out on the political stage is nothing more than a facade – just political theater. Dick, a lifelong partisan and staunch Democrat, insisted I was wrong, arguing that the philosophical divide between the two parties was real and enduring.

The strength of my conviction has waffled a bit over the decade or so since our courtship, but the events of the past couple of years have convinced me that my original position was right. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Left vs Right argument is subordinate to the Top vs. Bottom. The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few at the top is wrecking havoc in the lives of the common man. A recent report noted that 84 individuals have a combined networth that exceeds the networth of half the worlds population. This can’t be good for anyone including those 84 individuals.

Let’s just take a look at the media. Not too long ago I can remember relying on local television news broadcasts to provide information that helped me to stay civically engaged. But since regulations were relaxed regarding media ownership, we’ve seen local coverage reduced to the point where we get the following: (PLEASE watch this video. It is shocking how far we’ve come and that some find it funny)

Many media reform activists, myself included, feel that our democracy (if you believe we have one) is at stake if we don’t democratize the media. Concentration of media ownership was the topic of Sue Wilson’s awarding-winning documentary, “Broadcast Blues”.

Sue has been a foot soldier in the battle to take back the media. Sue believes media policy is killing people — literally.  Her documentary makes the case that Clear Channel’s neglect of its emergency system caused people to die when disaster struck New Orleans with hurricane Katrina.

She maintains that our current media policy is also killing our democracy. Far too few of us are aware of the public ownership of the airwaves. Even fewer exercise our right to hold mainstream television and radio broadcasters feet to the fire by insisting that their licenses be challenged for not fulfilling the public interest obligation that is exchanged in consideration for the free license to broadcast.

The airwaves belong to us. We justify the practice of granting the free licenses to mainstream media because they allegedly fulfill a public interest obligation. However, it’s hard to reconcile them fulfilling their public interest obligation with what they air in media outlets across this country. Documentarian Sue Wilson has developed a media activist toolkit to restore public interest obligations to broadcasting. You can find it here.

In a New York Times op-ed  entitled, “The Price of Free Airwaves“,  then FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wrote about the lack of public interest information on the airwaves. Calling the use of the public airwaves a privilege, not a right, Copps wrote that the public airwaves are worth more than half a trillion dollars. He said that we allow TV and radio broadcasters to use them for free and all that we require is that they serve the public interest by devoting at least some airtime for worthy programs that inform voters, support local arts and culture, and educate our children.

Sharon Kyle 2013

It’s bad enough that you can’t rely on local news to arm you with information that is useful to you. But now, large portions of the local news isn’t even local. It’s clearly coming from a central source. A source that wants to encourage you to consume more. Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand”.

Unless we exercise our rights as the rightful owners of the public airwaves we might as well accept that the notion of Public Airwaves is a myth and consider our ownership taken by adverse possession.

What will it take for us as a people to rise up and say “enough is enough”.

Sharon Kyle
Publisher, LA Progressive

Published by the LA Progressive on December 20, 2013
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About Sharon Kyle

Sharon Kyle, J.D. is the Publisher of the LA Progressive which she co-founded with her husband Dick Price. Ms. Kyle is an adjunct professor of law at Peoples College in Los Angeles. She sits on the board of the ACLU Pasadena/Foothills Chapter and is on the editorial board of the BlackCommentator.com. Photo courtesy Wadeva Images. www.wadevaimages.com