Where do you get your media? If you’re like millions of people, it’s probably some combination of the internet, broadcasting and even old-fashioned print publications. As the adage goes, information is power — now more than ever before. Which is why diversity of channels and viewpoints is so important. The internet is amazing in this regard, but it’s only part of the picture. Local media can offer a platform for community voices that tend to get lost in the vastness of the global internet. Not to mention the fact that not every American has access to affordable broadband. This is why it is crucial to nurture diversity of content and programming on traditional media platforms like radio.
FMC has long touted the benefits of localism in broadcasting as a way for more musicians to reach local audiences and advance their careers in their own backyards. Due to federal policy decisions going back more than a decade, it has been enormously difficult for most artists to gain access to the airwaves, no matter how talented or popular. This is due to the rampant consolidation in radio station ownership as a result of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which lifted the caps on how many stations a single broadcast company could own. Following the passage of this legislation, it was goodbye mom and pop stations, hello, Clear Channel.
We’ve spent the better part of a decade pointing out the failures of these policies and have, along with many of our public interest peers, been successful in holding the line on further consolidation. However, the fight doesn’t end there. Despite the broken business model that undergirds the commercial radio sector, corporate media is still hungry for more outlets to absorb. Currently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — which is tasked with reviewing the country’s media ownership rules every four years — is concluding a foot-dragging analysis of existing regulations. Instead of recognizing what millions of Americans (not to mention the courts) have said about the appalling lack of ownership diversity in radio, television and print media, the Commission seems primed to allow another wave of consolidation. This is bad news for musicians and other artists who already have precious few, if any, opportunities to reach audiences on local media channels.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is apparently in favor of rules that would allow one company to own the daily newspaper, two TV stations and up to eight radio stations in the same market. These rules would apply to the top 20 markets in America — precisely where the most historically disadvantaged populations reside. Whether or not you’re a fan of Rupert Murdoch’s approach to broadcasting, you can probably recognize the imbalance in allowing one media titan to own not only the FOX and Dow Jones empires but also the L.A. Times and the Chicago Tribune.
Some would argue that cross-ownership allows media companies to collateralize between struggling outlets and more profitable enterprises. For example, newspapers have been struggling with diminishing print advertising and subscription revenue, but still need to keep a reporting staff (even with major cutbacks). If that newspaper company owned a television station that made more money, it would have the flexibility to use some of those resources to shore up its editorial war room. Unfortunately, this argument never seems to bear out in practice. Instead, we too often see a race to the bottom in terms of homogenized content piggybacked from platform to platform with even less locally-generated reporting and entertainment. In radio, this means voice-tracking, automation and highly restrictive playlists that mirror commercial stations from coast to coast. This hardly serves musicians or the listening public.
Bottom line: this stuff matters. Local media platforms are what give the public the opportunity to converse as a community — to exchange ideas and information and to celebrate artistic expression. In fact, the FCC’s entire charter is predicated on upholding the tenets of localism, competition and diversity in American media. If they ignore what their own findings reveal about the lack of diversity in ownership, they are essentially betraying their own mandate.
The good news is that you can make your views known directly to the FCC’s five commissioners right here. (We think a good place to start would be Commissioners Mignon Clyburn, Jessica Rosenworcel and Chairman Genachowski.)
And if you have questions about FMC’s efforts to preserve localism in radio, feel free to drop a casey [at] futureofmusic [dot] org (line).