Based on our belief that knowledge is power, we note here some recent information relevant to media. (For comprehensive news coverage visit Freepress.net at http://www.freepress.net/newsroom/news_headlines, We recommend exploring the Free Press web site thoroughly.)
Please note: MediaReformSC posts certain articles, content and/or opinions on our web site because we believe they provide important insight and raise troubling questions about media in our society. We do not necessarily agree with the opinions and content created by third parties, nor do we endorse their accuracy or completeness.
Obama nominates new FCC Chair
On May 1 President Obama announced his choice for the next Chairperson of the Federal Communications Commission. Whoever occupies this position, though probably unnoticed by the majority of Americans, will likely determine the nature and quality of media we receive for many years to come. The President’s choice was Tom Wheeler, a long-time representative and lobbyist for the telecommunications industry. Mr. Wheeler’s background gives pause to those of us who believe the FCC has for way too long failed to honor its mandate to serve the public interest. However some public interest advocates find reasons to be hopeful that Wheeler may be able to better promote the public’s needs and wishes than was his predecessor, Julius Genachowski. We are optimistic, but very cautiously so. For more information, see the links below.
Koch brothers making a move into journalism? Does ownership bias news?
The ideal situation, we believe, is one in which journalists seek out the Truth and present it to the public – without concern for whom it might offend, inconvenience, or unmask. It serves the public’s right to know what’s going on in our democracy. Yet these days many people with all kinds of political beliefs argue that news media are biased – too liberal, too conservative, too libertarian, or too something else. Somehow, the hard Truth is too often lost.
Traditionally, natural tendencies toward media bias have been dealt with by limiting the number of media entities that can be owned by a single company. That helped to ‘spread out’ media biases, stimulated competition, and kept one political viewpoint from dominating too many newsrooms and too many readers. But this is the age of media consolidation and government policies have allowed fewer and fewer companies to own more and more news sources.
Recently, the Tribune Company – owner of 8 regional newspapers including some of the country’s largest – emerged from bankruptcy and announced its intention to sell all 8 of its newspapers (among them the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, and the Orlando Sentinel). Billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch (pronounced “coke”) have expressed an interest in buying the papers and they certainly have the money to do so. Because the Koch brothers have been extremely lavish supporters of libertarian political causes many people with other political beliefs – or simply with an aversion to too much media consolidation – oppose the Kochs’ purchase.
Read more about the Kochs’ possible foray into journalism at the first web site below. For a view opposing their potential purchase, click on the second link.
Media Reform SC sends complaint to the Federal Communications Commission
The following letter has been sent to the FCC, signed by all the members of Media Reform SC:
April 23, 2013
Dear FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Commissioners Robert M. McDowell, Mignon L. Clyburn, Jessica Rosenworcel, and Ajit Pai,
We, members of Media Reform SC, wish to file a complaint with the FCC regarding media consolidation in our community and ask that the FCC enforce its own rules regarding media ownership.
Specifically, we wish to file a complaint against Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. which owns the Charleston, S.C., station WMMP-TV and Sinclair’s side business (Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation) which owns the local Fox affiliate, WTAT-TV in the Charleston, S.C., market.
This arrangement is against the FCC’s own rule that bans a single company from owning two TV stations in a single market area if that market has 8 or fewer stations in total. This is the case in Charleston, S.C.
According to an article by John McDermott in the April 7, 2013 Post and Courier, “Charleston’s Fox TV station has starring role in FCC dilemma,” Cunningham Broadcasting was controlled by the Carolyn C. Smith, mother of Sinclair’s CEO David Smith, until Mrs. Smith’s death in 2012. Under the two companies’ arrangement, Sinclair has been operating – making decisions about programming and advertising for – both WTAT and WMMP. So the two companies, though distinct on paper, have essentially operated as one.
In this way, Sinclair was able to circumvent the FCC rule until the settlement of the Carolyn C Smith estate when documents filed with the FCC requested that eventual ownership of both stations be allowed to go to Sinclair Broadcast Group.
Mr. McDermott has written that “according to documents filed with the FCC in February, the deal would go down like this: Michael Anderson, a former Wall Street media analyst who is president of Cunningham, will distribute the company’s shares to Smith’s four sons, all insiders at publicly traded Sinclair. Noting the FCC ownership limits, the brothers immediately would transfer the stock to Anderson. But they also are requesting an option to buy the shares from him at some undefined point in the future.”
We strongly advocate that the FCC deny Cunningham’s request to distribute its licenses to the son’s of Sinclair’s CEO who intend to transfer them back to Cunningham. We expect the FCC to close all duopoly loopholes and give the broadcasters a limited amount of time to dispose of their existing duopolies and obey FCC rules.
It is important to our community that we have diverse voices and we fiercely oppose media consolidation.
Media Reform S.C. Inc. is a nonprofit corporation.
Members of Media Reform SC
George W. Hopkins
Brendan B. Patman
Copy: John McDermott, Post and Courier
Mr. Dave Grimaldi, Chief of Staff to Commissioner Mignon Clyburn
Solid research on continuing changes in news media
For the last 10 years the respected Pew Research Center has issued an Annual Report on American Journalism. Its “State of the News Media 2013” report came out in March, 2013. In general, the report reveals continued serious losses in traditional investigative reporting and increases in digital sources of information (where advertising and public relations are often difficult to distinguish from hard news). Local news, in particular, seems to be getting shoved aside in the ongoing and shifting struggle for revenue. You can read an Overview of the Pew Report at the web site below. From there you can link to all other parts of the report.
Two local TV stations: A single owner? A single point of view?
According to an article by John McDermott in the Charleston Post & Courier (4/7/13), Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. – which owns local station WMMP-TV – is testing a long-standing rule of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). That rule bans a single company from owning two TV stations in a single market area if that market has 8 or fewer stations in total, which is the case in Charleston. The justification for the rule is that diverse and competing media voices can vitalize and enhance the democratic process in local communities – a sentiment we support.
It seems that since the late ‘90s Sinclair has operated a “sidecar” business called Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation, which happens to own local Fox affiliate, WTAT-TV. In fact, Cunningham was controlled by the mother of Sinclair’s CEO until the mom’s death in 2012. Under the two companies’ arrangement, Sinclair has been operating – making decisions about programming and advertising for – both WTAT and WMMP. So the two companies, though distinct on paper, have essentially operated as one.
This situation tended to escape many media watchers’ notice until the settlement of the “Cunningham mom’s” estate came up and documents filed with the FCC requested that eventual ownership of both stations be allowed to go to Sinclair Broadcast Group. We note the fact that the FCC has been glacially slow to act on protests regarding Sinclair’s operations and there’s no guarantee that, when it acts, the FCC will actually enforce its ownership rules.
We urge you to seek out information on Sinclair Broadcast Group on your own. You may wish to consult the following web sites:
If you wish to contact the FCC regarding your feelings on this issue you can explore its web site at
History of media reform movement goes way back
The history of the media reform movement is a long one, but the modern movement – involving pressuring the Federal Communications Commission to protect public airwaves and preserve localism in media – can arguably be traced back to one amazing and dedicated man. You may not have heard of Everett C. Parker, but he’s had a huge impact on media in this country. We’re fortunate as a nation to have had him with us for 100 years!
Read a tribute to Everett C. Parker on the occasion of his turning 100 on January 17, 2013.
Media issues for 2013
The media landscape in the U.S. changes extremely rapidly – as technological advances permit new ways of collecting and distributing information and as large media corporations seek always to retain their supremacy in the media marketplace. Given this state of constant flux, it’s sensible for media reformers to take stock of what’s going on from time to time in order to best be a force for media that truly support a healthy democracy.
Media activist Josh Stearns has done just that here in early 2013. His well-informed analysis is that three issues are in flux at the moment and urgently need attention and advocacy efforts: 1) Women and minorities, though representing large segments of the population, are seriously underrepresented in media – both as owners and as employees; 2) Journalists have come under increasing harassment and detention – particularly when covering controversial issues and/or representing independent and digital news sources; and 3) Nonprofit journalism is increasingly valued and yet also in constant jeopardy because of unstable funding. Read Stearns’ op ed piece, “3 Crucial Media Issues We Can’t Ignore in 2013” at
News Corporation on climate science: Failure to inform
The Union of Concerned Scientists is a science-based nonprofit organization founded in 1969 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since its beginning, UCS has grown into a highly respected science nonprofit “working for a healthy environment and a safer world” (from the UCS web site). In the fall of 2012, UCS delivered nearly 20,000 post cards to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. The cards were signed by citizens and scientists protesting extremely biased and nonscientific coverage of climate-related issues by Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. To read and watch a video about public education events at the time the postcards were delivered, see:
global_warming_contrarians/news-corporation-climate-science-coverage-event.html. UCS plans to continue monitoring media coverage of climate change and educating the public regarding scientific information on this mounting planetary crisis.
Syndicated programming bumps local news off the air
In the same way that local television news departments are filling up their air time with syndicated, pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all features that have nothing to do with local issues (see post below), radio stations are cutting local programming. We are aware of how syndicated music programming gets piped through local stations around the country with breaks for local advertising. So it is with local radio talk and news. It's much cheaper to run syndicated programming than to hire local talent to fill a broadcast schedule. We saw an example of that in Charleston in the fall of 2011. Cumulus Media, the second-largest owner of radio stations in the country, bought out Citadel Broadcasting, including its local station WTMA. A few weeks later, Cumulus announced it was replacing popular local on-air personalities -- including conservative talker Rocky D -- with syndicated programming. The economics of syndication is killing local radio, as the story below demonstrates.
Can we hope for improvements at the FCC during Obama’s second term?
Media-reform-minded observers of the Federal Communications Commission have been disappointed in many of its actions during President Obama’s first term. This is especially so in light of opinions Mr. Obama expressed before becoming President. Time will tell whether those opinions will come to influence FCC policy during Obama’s second term. We hope so! And so does Michael Copps – an FCC Commissioner for more than 10 years and a consistent and astute defender of media’s essential role in a democracy. (Mr. Copps is a historian with ties to South Carolina – a graduate of Wofford College who served for 12 years as SC Senator Fritz Hollings’ Chief of Staff.) Read Copps’ brief, clear and sensible thoughts on the current FCC at http://benton.org/node/140512.
Low Power FM radio makes momentous stride!
On November 30, 2012 the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to license hundreds of low power FM community radio stations all across the country. Because of the FCC’s action (a bipartisan effort, by the way), locally-based community radio stations will be going on the air in city after city, town after town. The result is likely to be nothing less than a renaissance of community dialogue and grass-roots democracy. Here in Charleston, Media Reform SC and other local nonprofit groups have been seriously exploring and planning for our own LPFM station. Read details of the FCC’s vote and its immensely exciting implications at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rep-mike-doyle/fcc-community-radio_b_2211280.html and http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/490608-FCC_Approves_LPFM_Item.php.
How much of “local” TV news is really local?
A recent article in The Washington Post highlights a practice whereby large news organizations create news stories that are circulated to local TV stations around the country. Local stations then may run the stories during their local newscasts. The catch is that the local broadcasters make them look as if they’re locally-produced. We object to this practice on the grounds that 1) such stories aren’t truly local, 2) viewers are being deceived, and 3) the stories are filler that takes time away from coverage of potentially important local issues. Although this practice may make sense for local newsrooms in purely economic terms, it does little to inform the public of community matters that merit coverage. At the very least we’d prefer that such stories be labeled as having come from afar. Read the article at http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/a-local-tv-trend-and-now-the-identical-news/2012/11/27/9369a308-38bd-11e2-8a97-363b0f9a0ab3_story.html. For a light-hearted take on the matter, be sure to watch the associated videos!
Political persuasion masquerading as news
It’s frightening to think that a big, distant company that owns a local Charleston TV station might attempt to use its power to sway local voting under the guise of “news.” But it appears that this did happen in Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina, and Florida the night before the 2012 national election. If it happened there, it probably could happen here.
What happened? Sinclair Broadcast Group (which owns more than 70 TV stations nationwide) required news departments in five of its swing-state stations to air a half-hour “special” that was produced by Sinclair but delivered by local news personnel. In at least one instance it preempted the station’s national news broadcast. Observers noted that the scripted special was discernibly biased against one presidential candidate and toward the other.
Sinclair Broadcast Group owns one Charleston station (36 WMMP) and operates another (24 WTAT). (See specifics about local media ownership by clicking on the “Who owns Charleston’s media?” link on the left side of this page.) Should Sinclair at some point have a vested interest in influencing Charleston voters, might it be able to force biased news coverage on local viewers? There’s reason to believe it could. Media Reform SC believes that political advertising should never masquerade as news. Read more:
Low Power FM (LPFM) radio begins to take shape
As we reported earlier this year, we have been looking seriously into the possibility of starting a Low Power FM community-centered radio station in the Charleston area. This effort came about as a result of the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, which authorized granting of potentially thousands of LPFM licenses in cities and towns all around the country. We’re working with other community groups to explore the exciting opportunities for such noncommercial, locally-based radio in Charleston. (For a brief introduction to LPFM, see http://www.freepress.net/blog/12/05/07/verge-local-radio-renaissance.) Recently, the United Church of Christ – long involved in the quest for media justice – asked the Federal Communications Commission to include rules for licensees that will ensure that all LPFM stations provide a minimum amount of locally-originated programming. Read about their message to the FCC at http://uccmediajustice.org/p/salsa/web/blog/public/?blog_entry_KEY=6611. We support the United Church of Christ’s putting its considerable authority and expertise behind this important request to the FCC.
News media, democracy, and the 2012 election
Can you remember an election that was more permeated by invective, uncertainty, inaccurate information, and skepticism than that of 2012? Neither can we. It’s clearly time for news media to meet the challenge of providing unbiased, clear, penetrating information for citizens to use in determining their votes. Yet the news media seem to be backing away from this role, which is so crucial to the democratic process. For example, U.S. mainstream media have canceled exit polling in 19 states (including South Carolina) thus eliminating an important check on potential voting irregularities. (See http://truth-out.org/news/item/12213-americas-media-just-made-vote-rigging-easier.) Some news outlets reportedly have even cut back on news broadcasts so as to devote more time to lucrative third-party political ads – arguably the worst purveyors of inaccurate information. (See http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/dilemma-for-dc-stations-so-many-political-ads-so-little-airtime/2012/10/22/6ee44c1c-1a37-11e2-bd10-5ff056538b7c_story.html.) We join other media reform organizations in calling for news media to provide solid, unbiased, probing investigations of the political advertising that is flooding the airwaves.
Continuing threat to public media
Media Reform SC backs vibrant, well-supported public media, as clearly spelled out on this web site. In 2012, public funding for public media is again in jeopardy. Free Press said in a recent web posting, “Cutting federal funding for NPR and PBS will hardly make a dent in the budget but will have a huge impact on jobs and journalism in local communities.” See the full web post at http://www.freepress.net/blog/2012/10/04/stand-big-bird?akid=3870.9961122.BSNA0W&rd=1&t=5.
Misinformation often more influential than truth
Media reformers encounter a very persistent problem when they hope to lessen people’s tendency to believe untruths promoted media. Just why this should be (and what might be done about it) is discussed by Farron Cousins in a blog post titled “Psychological Study Reveals Why Misinformation Is So Effective.” Read it at http://thecontributor.com/science/psychological-study-reveals-why-misinformation-so-effective.
Journalism’s decline: Maybe it can be stopped!
Although numerous pressures have put traditional journalism in jeopardy, people around the country are devising creative ways to try to prevent the death of journalism. Two regional newspapers, in Oregon and Minnesota, are trying starkly contrasting ways of remaining profitable as their advertising revenues decline. Read about their approaches at http://www.minnpost.com/business/2012/09/star-tribune-vs-oregonian-whose-bet-will-win and try to decide which tactic, if either, might have a better chance of surviving and serving journalism’s needs in South Carolina.
Yet another approach is being tried in neighboring Georgia. In Macon the local newspaper, Georgia Public Radio, and Mercer University are cooperating to produce news and train journalists of the future. Their story: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/10/business/media/at-mercer-university-an-experiment-to-save-local-journalism.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper.
Perhaps one or more of these approaches will contribute to a revitalization of South Carolina journalism!
Journalism to the rescue?
Our guiding principle at Media Reform SC is: “Democracy requires the whole truth.” Facts and accurate information aren’t just niceties; they’re essential if democratic processes are to occur in healthy ways. Traditionally in the U.S. we’ve relied on a strong, free press to question the powerful, expose untruths, and provide us with accurate information on which to base decisions. But as many have noted, journalism is experiencing a long period of decline. The result is that it becomes harder and harder to know what the truth really is.
Americans may be getting used to making decisions without benefit of accurate information. Can anyone argue that this is a good thing?! We don’t think so. The situation is too easily taken advantage of by people in power.
Writing of lies in political campaigns, Michael Cooper says, “The growing number of misrepresentations appear to reflect a calculation in both parties that shame is overrated, and that no independent arbiters command the stature or the platform to hold the campaigns to account in the increasingly polarized and balkanized media firmament. Any unmasking of the lies or distortions, the thinking goes, rarely seeps into the public consciousness.” Ample reason for reforming media! Read full article at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/31/us/politics/ryans-speech-contained-a-litany-of-falsehoods.html?
Examining TV stations’ public files: Not always easy!
Members of Media Reform SC encountered some obstacles when we visited local TV stations to examine files that, by law, must be available to the public. Among other things we experienced inconvenient delays and steep copying costs. This, apparently, is not uncommon. Two staffers from Free Press recently went to examine public files at stations in Boston and Toledo. Consider whether public files are truly “public” as you read the accounts of these file searches: http://www.freepress.net/blog/2012/08/17/top-five-most-ridiculous-things-i-have-experienced-so-far-while-collecting-files and http://www.freepress.net/blog/2012/08/20/road-toledo. The good news is that by July 1, 2014 all such files will have to be available on line. Meantime, if you want to know how much money television stations are making from this season’s political ads (and who is paying for them), you’ll most likely have to allot a fair amount of time and money and visit the stations in person.
Media: Playing a role in how well the government protects us from domestic terrorism?
How news sources elect to cover (or not cover) government intelligence on activities of domestically-based terrorist groups may influence how well law enforcement protects us from such terrorism. Something worth thinking about. See an interesting 13-minute interview on this topic at http://www.democracynow.org/2012/8/9/former_dhs_analyst_daryl_johnson_on.
Responsible journalism in an election year
It’s the responsibility of journalism to hold those in power accountable – to probe their activities, examine their motives, and unearth any conflicts of interest. This responsibility is especially crucial in election years, when ‘we the people’ are deciding who will make and execute policies that affect an entire nation.
The Columbia Journalism Review, a bimonthly publication whose “mission is to encourage and stimulate excellence in journalism in the service of a free society” has recently published an article focusing on news coverage of election spending this year in nearby North Carolina. Titled “Big ad spending, little press scrutiny,” it raises concerns about whether political advertising (especially in a “swing” state, which NC is now considered to be) is having an inordinate amount of influence on voters due to journalism’s failure to adequately examine and question the sources – and truth – of the huge number of political ads being shown. Among other things, the author suggests to news media, “Don’t leave it to Stephen Colbert to educate voters on how these TV ads are being funded.” See this and the author’s other suggestions at http://cjr.org/swing_states_project/big_ad_spending_little_press_scrutiny.php Note especially what she reports about political advertising expenditures in the Charlotte and Raleigh areas.
Reasons why you can ignore the presidential campaign
Do you think it’s your duty as a citizen to fill up on TV coverage of the on-going presidential campaign? But are you already wishing it were over and you could get back to “real life”? If you’d like a break, blogger Marty Kaplan may provide you with justification. Kaplan is Director of the Norman Lear Center (“a nonpartisan research and public policy center that studies the social, political, economic and cultural impact of entertainment on the world”) and professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. Widely trained and experienced, he has observed presidential races for many years. Read what his experience has taught him at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marty-kaplan/campaign-coverage-kabuki_b_1716117.html?utm_hp_ref=media&ir=Media
Continuing government support of Public Broadcasting: Always in jeopardy
A matter that has arisen disturbingly often in recent months and years is the issue of whether our state and national governments will continue to support public broadcasting. Media Reform SC advocates maintaining government support for this vital media resource. In fact we urge enhanced government support, given in such a way that it will not fall prey to partisan political interests. (For more on Public Broadcasting generally, click on the “Why are public media important?” link on the left side of this page.)
Should you want to actively advocate continuing government support of Public Broadcasting, an excellent organization to be in touch with is 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting (http://170millionamericans.org/). This group “is a collaboration of public radio and television stations, national organizations, producers and [public broadcasting] viewers and listeners throughout the country in favor of a strong public media in the United States” (from their web site). They are not supported by government funds. Note their disclosure that over half of all Americans connect with public broadcasting in one way or another every month – hence their name, “170 Million Americans.” Sign up for their Action Alerts in order to learn when pending legislative action threatens public broadcasting.
George Stoney: A hero unknown to many
Sometimes heroes operate under the radar, quietly benefitting us without our even being aware of them. For many of us George Stoney was such a person. A tireless, life-long champion of free speech, Stoney died recently at the age of 96 – still actively involved in the quest to make media truly responsive to the needs of citizens and communities in a great democracy. Well-known as a documentary filmmaker and teacher of filmmaking, he has also been called “the father of public access television.” In his work he sought to hand the media microphone to ordinary people who would use it to “make communities safer, healthier, more open and accepting,” according to one who knew him well.
Read more about George Stoney and his exemplary life at http://www.freepress.net/blog/2012/07/17/vermont-public-access-advocate-recalls-george-stoney?akid=3672.9961122.WkTm_E&rd=1&t=13 and at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/arts/television/george-c-stoney-documentarian-dies-at-96.html
What if the federal government stops all support for public broadcasting?
A new, independent study of funding for public television and radio stations concludes that removing federal funds will likely devastate public broadcasting. The study, which was commissioned by Congress, predicts collapse of the system if public funding is removed. (You may recall that removal of funding has been called for by Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Doug Lamborn.) Read about the study at http://currentpublicmedia.blogspot.com/2012/06/cpb-report-to-congress-on-alternative.html
South Carolina in media-related worrisome news – many deprived of broadband
In October of 2009, two FCC Commissioners held a public hearing on accessibility of broadband service for rural people in South Carolina. Citizens who spoke at that hearing made it abundantly clear that lack of access to broadband service was a severe deterrent to operating a business in many rural areas, to doing school assignments in such “dark zones” and to communicating generally. One hope has been that local communities might be able to provide broadband service in areas where private businesses have been unable or unwilling to do so.
However a bill now making its way through the SC State Legislature would prevent local communities from providing this essential 21st-century service. The bill has been supported by AT&T and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council – a national organization that attempts to influence states’ legislation).
Read more about the bill (H. 3508) at http://www.muninetworks.org/content/community-broadband-legislation-alert-south-carolina. If you’re so inclined, contact your state legislators and let them know your opinion. Time is of the essence.
South Carolina in media-related good news
South Carolina native Mignon L. Clyburn was sworn in as one of the five members of the Federal Communications Commission in August of 2009. She was filling another Commissioner’s unexpired term. She has recently been nominated by the White House to fill a full 5-year term. Media Reform SC has had productive interactions with Commissioner Clyburn’s office and we look forward to continuing to work with her and her staff. Read more at http://www.multichannel.com/article/485615-White_House_Seeks_New_Term_For_Clyburn.php?rssid=20073.
President and CEO of South Carolina Educational Television describes all that SCETV does.
Linda O’Bryon, President and CEO of SCETV, recently described her organization’s many, many services in a guest column in The State newspaper. You may be surprised to learn all that SCETV does. Read O’Bryon’s article at http://www.thestate.com/2012/06/01/2297350/obryon-etv-more-than-just-tv-radio.html
Major newspaper notices covert consolidation…and raises questions
Covert consolidation occurs when two or more television broadcasters in a local broadcast market cooperate on collecting and broadcasting the news. The effect, of course, is to decrease competition and diversity in news reporting. This is troubling, considering that a Pew research study in April, 2012 shows that on a typical day more Americans (78%) get their news from local TV than from any other source (national TV, online, radio, or newspaper). On May 28, 2012 the NY Times ran a front page article on covert consolidation. Read it at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/business/media/local-tv-stations-cut-costs-by-sharing-news-operations.html?ref=brianstelter
Putting broadcasters’ public files on line: The saga continues
On April 27, 2012 the FCC voted to require broadcasters to post their public files online. This was a decision Media Reform SC had supported and we were delighted with the Commission’s decision. However the National Association of Broadcasters had opposed the measure and, in May 2012, the NAB filed suit seeking to require the FCC to reverse its judgment on the matter. See more at http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/22/elections-ads-fcc-idUSL1E8GM8A420120522
What has media consolidation done to the news?
Recently, Dan Rather spoke to Bill Maher about how media consolidation has resulted in trivialization of the news. We agree, and think the trend is extremely dangerous for democracy. See the interview at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/20/dan-rather-cbs-news-corporate-media_n_1531121.html.
Warren Buffett buys 63 newspapers. How come?
Nebraska investor Warren Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, recently bought 63 daily and weekly hometown newspapers. Is this yet another instance of media consolidation or simply a shrewd investment that will pay off for Buffett’s company within a few years? Although the answer may not be clear for years, analysts already are speculating about the intent of the purchase. See http://paidcontent.org/2012/05/17/why-warren-buffett-is-buying-newspapers/ for some interesting thoughts on the matter.
CPB foes DeMint and Lamborn seek to sway Congress to end funding for Public Broadcasting
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) have circulated letters in the U.S. Senate and House, asking federal legislators to cut all federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). While they point to the “enormous” cost of CPB funding, critics suggest the cost is tiny – only a fraction of a penny of each taxpayer dollar. Read more at http://www.freepress.net/press-release/2012/5/10/free-press-sen-demint-rep-lamborn-check-your-math
Low Power FM (LPFM) community radio in Charleston? Maybe!
Along with other community members and organizations, Media Reform SC is looking into the possibility of starting an LPFM radio station in the Charleston area. We’re very excited at the prospect of having local, noncommercial radio available in our home town. For a brief introduction to LPFM, go to http://www.savethenews.org/blog/12/05/07/verge-local-radio-renaissance. Contact us if you’re interested in helping!
Think individuals can’t make a difference? Think again.
When Rush Limbaugh called a young birth-control advocate a “slut” and a “prostitute” on his syndicated radio show he offended a lot of ordinary individuals. They contacted businesses that advertised on Limbaugh’s show and had an impact. Many of the advertisers withdrew their support. It cost Cumulus Radio millions of dollars in the first two quarters of 2012. It seems the collective actions of concerned citizens can make a difference. See the following article, which features a slide show of advertisers that requested to be disassociated with Rush: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/rush-limbaugh-cumulus-ad-boycott-millions_n_1502390.html#s814403&title=Kohler_Co.
Examining broadcasters’ public files: What it’s like in Cleveland…
Some broadcast journalism students in Cleveland set out to examine local TV stations’ public files in late April, 2012. Their experiences were somewhat similar to our own, when MediaReformSC examined broadcasters’ public files in Charleston (although we did not request to film our visits to the stations as they did). Have a look at this interesting video report of their visits to the Cleveland stations: http://vimeo.com/40931533. Wouldn’t it be preferable to have the public files available on line in an accessible format?
Is journalism about to disappear (and, along with it, our democracy)?
Journalist David Sirota has written a piece at Salon.com comparing real journalism with the opinionizing that passes for journalism in the “news” media today. He reminds us that “real journalism is about interviewing sources, digging through reams of data, questioning assumptions and challenging statements from the powerful.” Its goal is thoroughness and accuracy. “By contrast,” he goes on, “the ascendant journalism-free news media model is all about aggregating, pontificating and transcribing.” It’s cheap to produce but leaves our democracy in danger of experiencing an “information vacuum” in times of crisis – when thorough and accurate information is urgently needed.
Have a look at Sirota’s article: http://www.salon.com/2012/04/02/a_journalism_free_news_media/. It may be all you need to make you into a media reformer.
Another observation on broadcasters’ making public files available on line
Bill Moyers is a journalist and a long-time observer of the media. This commentary (“Who’s buying your TV station?”), was delivered on-air during his “Moyers and Company” television program. In it he addresses, among other topics, the issue of the accessibility of broadcasters’ public files. We think you may appreciate his sentiments: http://www.salon.com/2012/03/29/whos_buying_your_tv_station/singleton/.
More on making broadcasters’ public files available on line
Huge amounts of corporate money have poured into political advertising since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling lifted most limitations on political spending. Media are profiting to the tune of billions of dollars this election season from the windfall in advertising revenue. Because media use the public’s airwaves, the public has a legal right to know just how much money they’re taking in from various sources of political advertising. As we noted in an earlier post (below), big media oppose making their public files available in an accessible, on-line format. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to investigate these political advertising revenues has to visit the broadcasters in person and search through cumbersome paper files for the information.
Fortunately, Free Press and other watchdog organizations are mounting an effort to bring this information to light despite its limited availability. Read about this ambitious (and increasingly successful) effort at http://www.freepress.net/node/95737?akid=3412.9961122.vHcKTL&rd=1&t=3. Perhaps you will even consider joining in the effort! If you decide to visit a broadcaster, please let us know (through the “Contact” link on this web site).
Shouldn’t broadcasters’ public files be available on line?
Media Reform SC has filed a comment with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) supporting the view that broadcasters’ public files (required by law) should be available on line, in an easily-accessible format. Seems like a reasonable and achievable step at this point in history, no? Perhaps not surprisingly, though, big media are opposing this initiative. And it’s worth pondering why they might want to keep their “public” files in a format that’s not very accessible to the public.
See a recent article about this in The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/broadcasters-fight-plan-to-post-names-of-political-ad-buyers-on-web/2012/03/15/gIQAX2DLLS_story.html
Then have a look at Bill Moyers’ reaction to the news: http://billmoyers.com/2012/03/20/broadcasters-push-back-on-fcc-plan-to-post-names-of-political-ad-buyers-online/. We hope you’ll consider making your thoughts known on this issue.
Need some basic information on media ownership or the wireless spectrum?
We think you’ll agree that many issues related to the need for media reform can be highly complex and technical. In recent months a couple of excellent infographics have caught our eye. We think they do a good job of explaining complex issues in an understandable way.
For a graphic depiction of issues related to ownership and control of U.S. media, have a look at http://frugaldad.com/2011/11/22/media-consolidation-infographic/.
If the wireless spectrum has been a mystery to you, you may find the following write-up and infographic very enlightening: http://mashable.com/2012/02/21/wireless-spectrum/.
Consolidating local media: Could it happen here?
When local broadcast news operations combine, journalistic diversity suffers. And citizens get less of the information they need to keep their democracy healthy. Recent business dealings in Tucson, AZ resulted in a consolidation of the newsrooms of three local television stations and loss of some 40 newsroom jobs. Tucson’s citizens no longer have much choice as to where they get their broadcast news and competition among news organizations to get the best stories has been severely compromised. FCC rules permitted this to happen. What would be the implications if it happened here? Read about the Tucson case at: http://www.savethenews.org/blog/12/02/01/tucson-media-monopoly-takes-root
Allowing the press to do its job – part of free speech
We tend to think of instances of the press coming under physical attack by authorities as something that happens in other countries, not here. Unfortunately it does happen here sometimes, even right here in Charleston. The story, from our local paper: http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2012/jan/24/reporters-treatment-gets-citadel-apology/.
Putting the ‘public’ back in public airwaves
A recent column in the Charleston City Paper describes in detail how consolidation of media ownership can silence local voices and impact local communities. It’s a problem that’s happening all over the country, most recently right here in Charleston. As you read the article, look for mention of Media Reform SC: http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/charleston/lets-put-the-public-back-in-public-airwaves/Content?oid=3659351
Media reformers in local papers
Two Media Reformers recently published articles relevant to the ownership and responsibilities of South Carolina media. See one in the City Paper at: http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/charleston/mediareformsc-takes-on-the-profit-driven-media-machine/Content?oid=3637696.
Media consolidation hits home
In September, 2011, Atlanta-based Cumulus Media finalized a huge purchase, which included four local radio stations. (See http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/oct/03/cumulus-accumulating-more-sc-radio-stations/.) That acquisition resulted in Cumulus Media’s owning a total of 570 U.S. radio stations in 68 metropolitan areas. Less than three months later, some of the changes of media consolidation are affecting Charleston’s airwaves. Three on-air personalities at local stations now owed by Cumulus have lost their jobs – replaced by nationally syndicated shows that are more profitable for the corporation but have far less local flavor. Read about the losses of Rocky D, Tessa, and Baby J at: http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/dec/02/rocky-d-tessa-and-baby-j-off-air/
Covert consolidation and Conan O’Brien
Media consolidation can lead to a lot of similarities across news organizations. Have a look at this example from Conan O’Brien’s show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEAY445h7uw. To learn more about covert consolidation click on the “Covert consolidation in action” link on the left side of this page.
Covert consolidation in the national news
Noting that “a period of consolidation is under way in local television,” the New York Times has begun to look at the reasons for and implications of expanding mergers and acquisitions. One aspect of current consolidation efforts is the outsourcing of news production such that the news for one station is produced by the news department of another station in the same locality – a practice called covert consolidation. Have a look at the Times article and note, especially, its mention of local media in Charleston:
Michael Copps: A name you should know
Michael Copps was a Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from 2001 until late 2011. Prior to that he served for over 12 years as Chief of Staff to South Carolina Senator Ernest Hollings. His retirement from the FCC does not signal an end to his efforts on behalf of better, more diverse, more reliable media. To be inspired by Dr. Copps’ own words, see the following video (17 minutes long) of a speech he gave on 9/26/11 at Carnegie Mellon University: http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=X7UK_4T47jQ.
Fighting to keep the Internet open and free
It’s likely that there will be recurring skirmishes between a) those who want to keep the Internet free and open for all types of communication and b) Internet service providers seeking to gain advantage by discriminating against competitors and against those in whose messages they see little value. We think this is an issue very close to the heart of free speech.
For a brief summary of relevant issues, see:
For the outcome of the latest skirmish (as of November 10, 2011) see:
Internet speed: How does South Carolina compare to the rest of the country and the rest of the world?
According to a 2010 study by a group called “Speed Matters,” South Carolina ranks 37th in the nation on internet speed with an average download speed of 3.0 megabits per second (mbps). That is a speed way, way below world leaders such as South Korea (at 34.1 mbps), Sweden (at 22.2 mbps), and Japan (at 18.0 mbps). Some 56% of South Carolina households have internet speeds below the national standard of 4.0 mbps established by the Federal Communications Commission. Indeed, some of the poorer counties in our state register download speeds as slow as 1.4 and 1.8 mbps. These speeds are below the speeds in Puerto Rico, which reports the slowest average download speed in the U.S.
For a look at the full report by Speed Matters, go to http://www.speedmatters.org/content/internet-speed-report.
To look at the South Carolina report, see http://www.speedmatters.org/content/states/category/south_carolina
AT&T/T-Mobile deal hits heavy sailing
Media reformers have been questioning the wisdom of a planned merger between AT&T and its lower-cost competitor, T-Mobile. On August 31, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it is suing to prevent the deal. To examine some of the issues, see the following:
What is Covert Consolidation?
In many communities across the country – including some in South Carolina – television stations have consolidated their news operations without actually consolidating ownership of their stations (which would be against FCC rules). Free Press is mounting an effort to identify instances of such covert consolidation and to make the FCC aware of it. They call their campaign the “Change the Channels” campaign. Learn more by watching this 2-minute video:
Lowcountry Media Ownership
Media ownership is always changing. A recent story in the Post and Courier describes some ownership issues regarding a lowcountry radio station.
Filter bubbles on the net: What might they be?
Eli Pariser is the former Executive Director of MoveOn.org. Here he gives a TED (“Technology, Entertainment, Design”) talk on how various search algorithms may limit what you find on the Internet. If you think you’re getting unbiased access to information when you search on line, take a look at this. Talk lasts about 9 minutes.
Media ownership, the FCC, and the courts
Media ownership has everything to do with the information we get and the decisions we are thus able to make. (See the article “Who owns our media?” on this web site.) The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) establishes rules for media ownership and those rules can be contested in the courts. In July the courts made a ruling that may affect media ownership, at least in the short term. To be informed about some of the complexities, see this brief article from the NY Times.
Availability of broadband Internet in rural areas
Many rural areas in our state have limited or no access to the fast Internet service that others of us take for granted. In June, the Center for Media Justice brought together a number of people and organizations concerned about this issue. Their report of that meeting is now available. Have a look.
Rupert Murdoch, the News Corporation, and informing the public
Remembering that the public needs to know all facets of issues that affect life in a modern democracy, we depend on a free and responsible press to provide such information. For an exploration of how Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has been doing (or not doing) this here in the U.S., see the following.
As current items become out of date they will be moved to the “Archives” section of this web site.