ambivalent imbroglio home

« Jobs and Journals | Main | Lightly Kept in Bounds »

February 03, 2004

Commissioner Copps

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps called for change yesterday in the way federal elections are covered in the media and suggested that the FCC place free airtime for presidential candidates higher on its agenda:

We really need to do something about [free airtime for federal campaigns] because what passes for political coverage in this country is a travesty.

Speaking at George Washington University Law School, Copps also said that recent media controversies -- including CBS censoring, Janet Jackson's bare breast at the Superbowl halftime show* and the censoring of the Dixie Chicks -- are "smoking guns" that prove that media concentration has gone much too far. Copps explained that most of America's media operations (including (tv stations tv networks, tv production operations, radio, cds, internet portals, movie studios, movie theatres, concert venues, etc) are owned by a handful of big media companies.

They own the methods of production and distribution. If that's not the classic definition of a monopoly, I don't know what is.

The event was entitled "Is Media Concentration in the Public Interest?" and was sponsored by the American Constitution Society.

Copps began with a brief overview of recent developments in media deregulation and the situation as it stands today. According to Copps, it's not a pretty picture. Last June the Commission voted 3-5 to relax media ownership rules, giving already huge corporations a chance to get even bigger. Copps called this a "tectonic shift" across a whole range of media issues, saying that with this and other recent actions, the Commission seems to be "rushing pell-mell toward breathtaking change" -- all while doing everything it can to keep the citizens who own the airwaves (you and me) from having any input in the process.

Copps argued that media concentration matters to regular citizens because it threatens the free exchange of information and ideas necessary for democracy to function.

According to Copps, the FCC has been and continues to face a choice about how American media will function. On the one side are the free-market cheerleaders, friends of big media who are pushing for more media control by fewer corporate giants, as if the media is just like any other business: Chairman Powell (son of Colin, yes, the Secretary of State), Kathleen Abernathy, and Kevin Martin. On the other side are the friends of democracy and American citizens, the Commissioners fighting for more local control, diversity, and competition in media markets: Copps and Jonathan Adelstein .

While, Copps said the free-market advocates have recently been winning the fight, there's still hope that their rush to deregulate the media can be turned around. That hope comes in the form of an unprecedented coalition of citizens and advocacy groups who have joined together to stand against media concentration. That coalition helped encourage the Senate to pass a resolution of disapproval against the FCC's changes last June. The resolution has been bottled up in the house by Republicans and the President who don't want it to come to a vote.

But Copps said the best way to save the media is to get involved. For more information, read anything by Robert McChesney, one of the founders of, where you'll find all the information you'll need to understand the problem of media consolidation, including ten things big media doesn't want you to know. NOW with Bill Moyers also reports frequently on the issue.

* Note: I personally think the brouhaha over Jackson's bare breast is insanely ridiculous; we have much larger things to worry about. Why didn't we hear this much public and official outrage when CBS censored MoveOn and PETA? Why were there no official inquiries and condemnations when Clear Channel censored the Dixie Chicks? We unleash all the indignation and anger we can muster when a breast appears on tv, but we hardly bat an eye when the complete disregard for freedom of speech threatens our very democracy. Sad.

Also, think for a minute about the ad CBS refused to run It's simply a reminder that huge deficits are probably bad for America's future. But CBS refused to run it because CBS would rather subject Superbowl fans to ads about crotches and fart jokes (the Budweiser ads, for example). At this rate, crotch and fart jokes will be the future of our country. Or are we already there?

Posted February 3, 2004 06:27 AM | general politics law school

You say that Copps said:
"They own the methods of production and distribution. If that's not the classic definition of a monopoly, I don't know what is."

Every classical definition of a monopoly that I know of holds that 'they' isn't part of the definition. A 'they' might constitute an oligopoly, at the very most, or even a pool, but not a monopoly. (And since there is such a thing as oligopolistic competition, this isn't a minor point.)

A monopoly is a sole supplier and a sole distributor. The fact that the Dixie Chick were never censored (I still managed to hear them all the way in England), that you could still buy their CDs (was there a single day you couldn't buy their music on Amazon or download them from iTunes? and incidentally, who owns those methods of distribution?) speaks oceans about this fellow's economic incompetence, or at the very least terminological inexactitude.

Yes, yes, I know what you mean, but very simply, your Mr. Copps doesn't mean what he says. This isn't a monopoly, nor do you have to own the methods of production and distribution to constitute one. Nor is his statement anywhere near a classic definition. Which means his statement is at least fairly true: as he hasn't given the classic definition of a monopoly, it's pretty true he doesn't know what one is.

Posted by: A. Rickey at February 3, 2004 08:07 PM

As a further note, could you please explain by what authority Clear Channel "censors" anything at all? It is a remarkable new power of the Federal Mediocracy (as I suppose we must call this new branch of 'government').

Last I knew, censorship involved the prevention of publication or distribution. A single media company simply can't pull that off. Sorry, but so long as the Dixie Chicks are still quite successfully selling albums, don't you worry about crying wolf a few too many times over 'censorship?'

After the recent F.E.C. ruling, I can't buy media space in order to put forward my own views on an election. Now, think about this: you pay for your hosting, and you comment about elections--at least in principle, how long before your blog can be censored? [1] That's real, honest-to-god, you can be fined and put in jail by law censorship. What you're talking about is deciding not to spin a disc.

[1] Admittedly, I don't know F.E.C. v. McDonnell well enough to know if there's something in it that might stop an encroachment upon 'non-commercial publishing' like blogs.

Posted by: A. Rickey at February 3, 2004 08:14 PM

Sorry if this is rushed but I wanted to respond quickly: I'm sure Mr. Copps (he's not *mine," he's yours too!) understands what a monopoly is, and I agree he misspoke. The situation in our media markets would be more properly called an oligarchy. Thanks for the clarification.

You're also absolutely correct on the technicalities of censorship, but would you agree that there might be a spectrum of censorship? Is it an all or nothing concept? I don't think so. Clear Channel (CC) owns hundreds if not thousands of radio stations across the country, and is also the largest concert promoter in the country. When CC says "don't play this" it's practicing censorship in my book. I'm not at all worried about crying wolf. Would you suggest that increasing media concentration is not a threat to democracy?

I have no clue about the recent FEC ruling... (and I'm late for class!) ;-)

Posted by: ambimb at February 4, 2004 07:32 AM

I think the subconscious mistake you made in your post above shows everything about what I'm talking about.

I said oligopoly. You said oligarchy. The first is a condition of buying and selling in a market; the second is a form of government. Government can put me in prison if I speak--say, before an election--that's censorship. What you're talking about is a company making a decision, which, if I'm particularly perturbed by, I can counteract myself.

Am I worried about ClearChannel? Well, look at how well its 'censorship' worked. The Chicks are still a hot country (or, well, maybe now pop) band. [1] If this is overconcentration of power, I'm shocked. Besides, it's not like radio is the only method of getting music out there, or that you couldn't enter into competition...

[1] Incidentally, the whole 'Dixie Chicks' thing annoys me. I've been listening to country music for years, and I like the Chicks. They're a good band, and I don't listen to my musicians for political advice. But most of the johnny-come-latelys who are so upset about the Chicks never listened to them, and contributed to an environment where admitting that you listened to country music was like confessing to having leprosy. But now they're worried about country? C'mon. If Clear Channel had cut them because they, for instance, said something about Dean or Kerry, I really don't see everyone getting that upset.

Posted by: A. Rickey at February 4, 2004 11:02 AM

Damn. I have to watch those quick posts. Ok, let's go with oligopoly then, and grant that we're not talking about state/governmental censorship. I'm still curious: Would you suggest that increasing media concentration is not a threat to democracy?

It seems the amount of control Clear Channel exercises over what you hear does not concern you. Do you think you'd feel differently if you made music, or if you held political views that were outside the mainstream and you wanted to try to increase the general population's awareness of your views? How much control is too much for you? At what point would you stand up and say we need to implement some safeguards to ensure a free exchange of ideas, free and open debate, and diversity in the quality and substance of what we see, hear, read, or otherwise consume, information-wise?

Posted by: ambimb at February 4, 2004 11:39 AM

The idea that the media is 'concentrated' is ridiculous in any case, but the Dixie Chicks thing is particularly inappropriate. Look, AI, if Clear Channel were actually capable of 'censoring' the Dixie Chicks in any way, I'd not be able to listen to their albums. I'm a fan. I do. If the big CC is such a bloody bugbear, why am I not having a hard time listening to them?

Is media concentration a huge threat to music? No. If I were making music and I were really that concerned about it, I might do what Ani DiFranco did, and ensure that her music can be distributed on MP3. I might start an artists cooperative that allows digital distribution of music instead of working through the RIAA. I might try any number of creative solutions for the expression of thought that are perfectly available to me without having to worry about 'media concentration.'

I listen to almost all my radio from Musicmatch, which is nothing to do with Clear Channel, so far as I know. They also didn't seem to shut down the Chicks. You see? Alternative methods of distribution, including your beloved iTunes, keep the boogey-monster at bay.

Censorship is what happens if I'm the NRA and I decide I'm going to put up an ad supporting George Bush 60 days before the general election. And that's not the decision of a media outlet that decides it only wants certain types of ads run (for instance, non-boring, non-offensive, non-ridiculous ones) during the Super Bowl. It's not the decision of a free entity deciding not to associate. No, it's a criminal penalty punishable by law. That's censorship, it's effective, and you don't seem too upset by it.

In the meantime, you're crying like Chicken Little over no problem at all. Again, if Clear Channel is able to censor the Dixie Chicks, why don't I have a hard time listening to them?

Posted by: A. Rickey at February 4, 2004 07:45 PM

Don't get me wrong--there are some good reasons to reject the idea of overcentralization of media, and some regulatory things that could be done about it. (Liberalizing licenses, for instance, so there could be more voices available and the value of a license went down.) But crying 'monopoly,' 'censorship,' and 'boo-hoo-hoo I can't see PETA during the Super Bowl' is closer to hysteria than that reasoned argument.

Posted by: A. Rickey at February 4, 2004 07:47 PM

Please don't confuse Bush Co with actual free market folks like me. We get sensitive about that kind of thing. Bush Co are crony capitalists, which in some way is an oxymoron, too. They would not survive in a true free market.

Posted by: justin at February 4, 2004 07:55 PM

about   ∞     ∞   archives   ∞   links   ∞   rss
This template highly modified from The Style Monkey.