FCC Panel in Atlanta Examines the Future of Media

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(APN) ATLANTA — US Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioners Michael J. Copps and Mignon Clyburn, hosted a forum at Georgia Tech on Information Needs of Atlanta, on December 01, 2011.

About two hundred people including a dozen from Occupy Atlanta came to hear the Commissioners and the panelists discuss the state of Atlanta’s media and the future of Atlanta’s media.
The FCC is a governmental agency that regulates the broadcast airwaves in the public interest. However, many believe they are regulating them in the interest of corporate profit.

Today, corporate media feeds the public an unending diet of propaganda, entertainment news, warmongering, some selective news coverage, and news benefiting the interests of the wealthy.

The investment community wants media-ownership rules loosened to allow more consolidation and less competition so fewer media corporations can make more money.

They are worried because newspapers, TV, and radio stations continue to lose more customers to online competitors. Meanwhile, most of them have lost touch with 99 percent of the public, don’t provide local interest news, nor report the diversity of events happening in the community.

There are many in the US today who no longer trust corporate media to tell the truth and that is why they are turning to alternative new outlets.

Commissioner Copps, who plans to retire at the end of this year, was very critical of the FCC and what has
happened to the Fourth Estate.

“What went wrong with the media is that for thirty years the private sector media consolidations have gobbled up local small independent entities and created huge empires with standardized programming,” Copps said.

“They cut back on what Wall Street considered non-essential parts of their business like news that reflected the diversity of the community they served. While trying to serve the captains of industry, they were subservient to the bottom line and the quarterly reports. The interests of stockholders became the new modus operandi,” Copps explained.

“The FCC was at the center of it all blessing the consolidation tsunami and eliminating almost all the public interest guidelines and enforcement,” he said.

“Currently radio and TV show programs that are dumbed down and based on fluff, and democracy is not well-served by fluff. A well-informed electorate is the prerequisite of a functioning self-government. Getting our media right is step number one in getting our democracy right,” he said.

“Citizen action can still make a difference even in these times when so few people wield such outrageous power. Forty years in Washington has convinced me that real change comes from the grassroots up,” Copps said.

Heather Gray, Board Member of Radio Free Georgia (WRFG radio 89.3 FM), offered three recommendations to support and build community media.

The government is now privatizing the frequencies, that are owned by the public, by auctioning them off.

“Instead of auctioning them off, they should be given to communities across America for public and non-profit broadcasters and public television,” Gray said.

The commercial media uses the publicly owned frequencies to make huge financial profit for themselves.

“Substantial license fees, from commercial media, should be immediately implemented and the fees used to fund public and non-profit broadcasters and public television in a Public Media Trust Fund,” Gray explained.

“There should be a three hundred dollar media tax credit for Americans. Tax payers will check the media entity they want their money to be assigned to and/or have the money go into the Public Media Trust Fund,” Gray said.

“Today we have four corporate giants controlling vast numbers of radio stations and reaping billions of dollars at the expense of independent news. Media in America represents corporate America. The government has allowed commercial interest to monopolize and to use the spectrums for free while offering next to no public service,” Gray said.

Hank Klibanoff, former Managing Editor at AJC and Professor of Journalism at Emory University, said without the extensive news coverage that awakened the US to the injustices of racism, the Civil Rights Movement would not have been as successful.

“Today if we don’t have an active vibrant full news media covering our society… then we are ripe for someone to take hold of the masses of people and twist minds in a way that we find ourselves doing some terrible things,” Klibanoff worries.

During the public questions, Bruce Dixon with Black Agenda Report and Occupy Atlanta, asked the FCC to stop privatizing and auctioning off the frequencies.

Dixon then surprised the room by asking for a ‘Mic Check’ which was a signal for everyone from Occupy Atlanta to repeat his statements to the FCC.

“Stop the privatization, the frequencies belong to the people, create new and diverse community broadcasters by giving the people back their spectrum, make the commercial broadcasters and cable operators pay for the scarce public resources they use by funding community broadcasters,” Dixon said and Occupy Atlanta members repeated.

“The wealthiest 1 percent of corporations use their money to lobby politicians and regulators such as the FCC to make policies to benefit the 1 percent of corporations but harm the public and democracy. How has media consolidation to five major companies helped the public and enhanced democracy? Where is the media discussion on how corporate media consolidation and conglomerates are corrupting our government?” Ron Allen, an organizer with Occupy Atlanta, asked the FCC commissioners.

Allen King from Jonesboro, Georgia, asked, “How many people heard about this FCC hearing from the TV or radio?” Only two people raised their hands.

“This shows the state of news broadcasting in the Atlanta area today. Their business is to sell commercials. I fail to see how the public interest is served by giving profitmaking business free access to the public airwaves,” King said.

(END/2011)

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