On Monday, June 2, the last major rules standing athwart the phenomenon of “media concentration” were erased from law by a 3-2 party-line vote of the Federal Communications Commission. Local limits on ownership of radio and blocks on certain cross-media mergers were removed, yet the ban on low-power “pirate” broadcasting remained, even though the FCC contends that the radio spectrum is basically obsolete. Chairman Michael Powell has now earned his own nickname from the press: “Red Lion.” He is so called, I guess, for his zeal and vigilance in forcing through a deregulatory agenda that represents the literal will of today’s major media monoliths. No better time that now to note that the FCC has done more to wreck the moral, intellectual and social infrastructure of this country than any other government agency of the past decade. Not all of it is Powell’s fault, but much of it is. The rest is ours.
I’m trying to be as delicate about this as possible, because I know very well that media concentration is not a subject worth writing about if getting paid is the fundamental goal. In three years of trying, I have uniformly failed to get anything about the subject through to the readers, which is unfortunate because it’s one of the few political issues that regular citizens can dig quickly and substantively affect through group action. That’s true even now, when the game is almost over, when the Dollar’s become a third-rate currency in the eyes of domestic speculators, when our youth has been sold out wholesale by their own guardians, when our nation’s primary source of income is the self-destructive behavior of its citizens. Even now, but not much longer.
Jacksonville is a great example of what media concentration can do to a population. One of the best, in fact, because although our culture has not been utterly obliterated as it has in smaller, more vulnerable cities, the process has occurred so rapidly here that its effect is undeniable. The city has regressed in most social and economic indicators since the Telecommuncations Act of 1996 was passed. Test scores are down, literacy is down, per-capita income is stagnant, real income is way down, but drug use, rape, teen pregnancy and abortion rates, STD rates, obesity and recidivism are up. Of course, these trends are not solely the result of media concentration in Jacksonville and beyond, but the fact that these held through the all-time peak of American economic growth suggests that something has had a hugely mitigating effect on all that well-hyped progress. My money says Clear Channel and Viacom.
After the first two of many wars, after 9/11, in the midst of economic weirdness so profound that I will not even speak of it, with all the serious issues this city is facing over the next decade (dealing with staggering, unserviceable debt is but one of them), barely a third of registered voters turned out for what may have been their last chance to make a decision about our future. That’s a slap in the face for everyone, especially all those women and black folk who laid down their lives for the ideal of Democracy. The citizens of Jacksonville simply do not care about their future in the short-, medium- or long-term. Given that so much of our perceptions are intuited from various media, what does that say about the media’s performance in this crucial function of informing the people? What does that say about our priorities as a city?
Anything that turns so many away from such a basic and fundamental obligation should not be regarded as benign or merely coincidental. The American radio industry has been crippled by deregulation, and the audience it serves-mostly children, increasingly so as those who can afford it have turned away from radio to other media-has been crippled in turn, in that they are now essentially forced to live in a world of lies, propaganda and deliberately applied methods of mind-control. Apparently the idea that media could be used for mass psychological manipulation never occurred to advocates of deregulation, nor the idea that media conglomerates could be front-companies for God-knows-what. The deregulatory agenda enforced by the FCC has created weaknesses that will be exploited by this country’s enemies, sooner or later, and we know it. You cannot feed your children garbage and expect them to grow up strong, certainly not strong enough to defend the homeland. In that, Michael Powell’s “triumph” is a humiliation for the rest of America.
SHELTON HULL has written for many alternative publications, and writes the “Money Jungle” column for Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly. Comments encouraged: firstname.lastname@example.org