Saturday, September 09, 2006

Beneath Mickey's Deception: Big Media Gone Wild

ABC's plan to air an inaccurate 9-11 "docudrama" has ignited public outrage with hundreds of thousands of people sending letters to Disney headquarters and ABC stations to protest their willful distortion of history.

These media protests have had an impact, but the root problem will remain unless we act now to stop media giants from becoming even more powerful.

Rampant media consolidation over the last two decades has put control over the media in the hands of a few large corporations. We see it in action now.

Local stations have been instructed by ABC -- and its corporate owners at Disney -- to air "The Path to 9/11" a five-hour "docudrama" that is riddled with falsehoods about events that lead to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Disney seems determined to wield reckless control over local television for ratings and political gain. Media ownership matters.

The best way to contain these types of abuses is to limit massive conglomerates ability to use our airwaves for political gain.

"The Path to 9/11" reportedly features a series of fictionalized scenes, written by a right-wing activist, that are in direct conflict with the bi-partisan 9-11 Commission's report. It's so rife with falsehoods that an FBI agent who was brought in to consult on the docudrama quit because, he said, "they were making things up."

Now, Disney is forcing local broadcasters to air these falsehoods in our communities.

No matter your politics, we should all embrace the public's right to have a strong voice in how the broadcasters use our airwaves. Sadly, the local station owners that are most responsive to our interests are being pushed around by conglomerates like Disney.

And now the Federal Communications Commission is poised to give companies like Disney even more power, as the federal agency is once again weighing the loosening of anti-trust, media ownership rules that curb runaway consolidation. If rules limiting conglomerates are eliminated, the last vestiges of local media competition will be swept away, replacing varied viewpoints with "media company towns," where Fox News, Tribune Co., Sinclair Brodacst Group or the New York Times completely dominate local public discourse.

This may sound an echo from the past. In 2003, the FCC aligned itself with industry and trade groups in an attempt to lift ownership restrictions. Then-Chairman Michael Powell sought little to no public input – appearing at just a single official public hearing in Richmond, Va. and limiting his appearances to speeches before media lobbyists and their allies.

But that rule change was met with an unprecedented groundswell of popular opposition from all corners of society. Nearly 3 million people contacted the FCC and Congress in 2003, more than called Washington on any other issue that year except for the war in Iraq.

In 2006, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wants, once again, to let conglomerates like Disney buy up even more local stations -- and own other media including radios and newspapers in a single town.

Martin has promised to convene at least six public town hall meetings to discuss, face to face with Americans, media ownership and localism. Sadly, he has yet to convene a single hearing.

Without public input, these decisions will be made in bureaucratic backrooms where powerful media lobbyists still hold sway.

As Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has warned: "They screwed it up once. Believe me, they're 100 percent capable of screwing it up again."

Too much is at stake in 2006 for the FCC to "screw it up." Without full public input, the agency will do little to contain media conglomerates' damaging influence on our democracy.