Congress cant ignore corporate control of the media

One of our best-kept secrets is the degree to which a handful of huge corporations control the flow of information in the United States. Whether it is television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books or the Internet, a few giant conglomerates are determining what we see, hear and read. And the situation is likely to become much worse as a result of radical deregulation efforts by the Bush administration and some horrendous court decisions.

Television is the means by which most Americans get their “news.” Without exception, every major network is owned by a huge conglomerate that has enormous conflicts of interest. Fox News Channel is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a right-wing Australian who already owns a significant portion of the world’s media. His network has close ties to the Republican Party, and among his “fair and balanced” commentators is Newt Gingrich.

NBC is owned by General Electric, one of the largest corporations in the world – and one with a long history of anti-union activity. GE, a major contributor to the Republican Party, has substantial financial interests in weapons manufacturing, finance, nuclear power and many other industries. Former CEO Jack Welch was one of the leaders in shutting down American plants and moving them to low-wage countries like China and Mexico.

ABC is owned by the Disney Corp., which produces toys and products in developing countries, where they provide their workers atrocious wages and working conditions.

CBS is owned by Viacom, another huge media conglomerate that owns, among other entities, MTV, Showtime, Nickelodeon, VH1, TNN, CMT, 39 broadcast television stations, 184 radio stations, Paramount Pictures and Blockbuster Inc.

The essential problem with television is not just a right-wing bias in news and programming, or the transformation of politics and government into entertainment and sensationalism. Nor is it just the constant bombardment of advertising, much of it directed at children. It’s that the most important issues facing the middle-class and working people of our country are rarely discussed. The average American does not see his or her reality reflected on the television screen.

The United States is the only industrialized nation on earth that does not have a national healthcare program. Yet, despite 41 million people with no health insurance and millions more underinsured, we spend far more per capita on healthcare than any other nation. Maybe the reason is that we are seeing no good programs on television, in between the prescription drug advertisements, discussing how we can provide quality healthcare for all at far lower per capita costs than we presently spend?

Despite the great “economic boom” of the 1990s, the average American worker is now working longer hours for lower wages than 30 years ago, and we have lost millions of decent-paying manufacturing jobs. Where are the TV programs addressing our $360 billion trade deficit, or what our disastrous trade policy has done to depress wages in this country? And while we’re on economics, workers who are in unions earn 30 percent more than non-union people doing the same work.

There are a lot of programs on television about how to get rich by investing in the stock market. But have you seen any “specials” on how to go about forming a union?

The United States has the most unfair distribution of wealth and income in the industrialized world, and the highest rate of childhood poverty. There’s a lot of television promoting greed and self-interest, but how many programs speak to the “justice” of the richest 1 percent owning more wealth than the bottom 95 percent? Or of the CEOs of major corporations earning 500 times what their employees make?

If television largely ignores the reality of life for the majority of Americans, corporate radio is just plain overt in its right-wing bias. In a nation that cast a few million more votes for Al Gore and Ralph Nader than for George Bush and Pat Buchanan, there are dozens of right-wing talk-show programs. Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, Bob Grant, Sean Hannity, Alan Keyes, Armstrong Williams, Howie Carr, Oliver North, Michael Savage, Michael Reagan, Pat Robertson, Laura Schlessinger – these are only a few of the voices that day after day pound a right-wing drumbeat into the heartland of this country.

And from a left perspective there is – well, no one. The Republican Party, corporate owners and advertisers have their point of view well represented on radio. Unfortunately, the rest of America has almost nothing. As bad as the current media situation is, it is likely to be made much worse by a recent decision in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals that responded to a suit by Fox, AOL Time Warner, NBC and Viacom. That decision struck down a federal regulation limiting companies from owning television stations and cable franchises in the same local markets. The court also ordered that the Federal Communications Commission either justify or rewrite the federal rule that limits any one company from owning television stations that reach more than 35 percent of American households.

The bottom line is that fewer and fewer huge conglomerates are controlling virtually everything that the ordinary American sees, hears and reads. This is an issue that Congress can no longer ignore.

Rep. Bernie Sanders is an Independent from Vermont. This article is reprinted from The Hill.