I hope that you all had a wonderful New Year’s weekend! Like so many people, I was glad to kick 2016 to the curb, and am ready to dive right into 2017, so here goes.
We all know that changes are coming this year.
Come January 20th we have a new president. Tomorrow, January 3, 2017, we have a new congress. And we’ll soon have a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
I am by far an expert on the FCC, but I know enough to realize that there are some big changes coming that will have a huge impact for the public and anyone involved in the communications industry that should spark public outcry, but I doubt will.
The ideology of the establishment of the FCC under the Communications Act of 1934 was to protect the public from the possibilities of monopolies of telephone, radio and television monopolies. There’s a lot more to the Act, but the gist was that if the government could somehow control how growing telecommunications companies bought and sold their entities, then the rights of the printed press established under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution could be applied to the new technology of airwaves.
Through the years, the FCC was given the authority to further this ideology by changing the rules as new telecommunications technology was utilized to disseminate news.
- Broadcast-newspaper Cross Ban Ownership (adopted in 1975)- prevents ownership of a television station and newspaper in the same city
- Local Radio Ownership Rule (adopted in 1941)-prohibits radio stations from operating a large percentage of companies in the same area
- National TV Ownership Rule (adopted in 1941)-allows television stations to reach a maximum of 35% of American households
- Local TV Multiple Ownership (adopted in 1964)-prohibits television stations from monopoly in the same marketing area.
- Radio/TV Cross-Ownership Restriction (adopted in 1964)-prevents ownership of a radio and television station in the same market.
- Dual Television Network Rule (adopted in 1946)-prohibits a merger between radio and television stations. In particular, ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC are not allowed to merge.
All of these regulations were designed to protect the public’s right to receive fair and unbiased information and news. The thought was that when fewer companies owned the press, the more narrow the information and news we would receive. Fewer media companies would result fewer “voices” being heard and the more likely our First Amendment rights would be violated.
In other words, media monopolies are bad for our civil rights.
Nice thought in theory, but not so much in practice.
How things changed under the Clinton Administration
Under the Clinton administration, the FCC received an overhaul. One of the major changes came with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in which all former regulations to prevent and ban media monopolies were undone under the guise of fair market competition for communications companies. Under this act, telecommunications companies and media companies were free to buy and sell with fewer restrictions. During the next few years, we began to see a game of media survival of the fittest in which the larger, stronger telecommunications companies have gobbled up the smaller, weaker ones at alarming rates with little public outcry.
Fallout from the Telecommunications Act of 1996
Over the past 20 years, there have been some huge changes in the telecommunications industry. Namely, we ended up with just a few huge media conglomerations.
In 2011, Jason the Frugal Dad created this infographic that shows how just 6 companies own 90% of the media.
A lot can happen in six years
The Frugal Dad’s infographic beautifully broke down what the Telecommunications Act of 1996 did to the media landscape. It baffles me that not only did the public not really complain about this, but we’ve had two other presidential administrations that have done nothing either.
And so many more changes have happened since then. More mergers have happened, and where has it gotten us?
2016: The year of media distrust and purge
The presidential election of 2016 saw people complaining about what is now known as the mainstream media. Claims from both sides of the aisle regarding media bias flew rampantly. Allegations of fake news and Russian media tampering to control the outcome of the U.S. election are still being waged. We have an incoming president who has such a mistrust for reporters that he circumvents the press by tweeting and holding private news conferences on YouTube.
Additionally, the so-called “media winter” brought on by the Great Recession continues as more and more print, broadcast and digital media companies have been laying off more and more of their staff.
Is this what the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has sown? I believe it has.
It’s anticipated that President Elect Trump will seek to “dissolve the FCC.” Some see this as a good thing. Others are about what this could possibly mean for the future of the FCC and internet regulations on free speech, there is more to this story that we all need to know.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at
- what mergers lie ahead in the telecommunications industry during 2017
- what this means for journalists, and public relations and marketing professionals, as well as the general public
- how President Elect Trump’s policies regarding the FCC will not fix the problems brought about by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Thanks for following and sharing!