Part 2 – The 1996 Telecommuncations Act.
In Part 1 we saw how in 1989 President Reagan initiated substantial change in the American media market by repealing what was colloquially called, “The Fairness Doctrine.” This was a legal requirement that media organizations had to show both sides of an issue and not be partisan. Additionally, media outlets could not shy away from debate and had to present controversial issues for public consideration.
This change was followed 7 years later by the creation of the Telecommunications Act, 1996 signed by President Clinton. This act’s stated objective was to open up media markets to competition by removing regulatory barriers to entry. The 104th Congress of the House of Representatives refers to the purprose of the bill as “to provide for a pro-competitive, de-regulatory national policy framework designed to accelerate rapidly private sector deployment of advanced information technologies and services to all Americans by opening all telecommunications markets to competition.”
The goal of the law was to let anyone enter any communications business and to let any communications business compete in any market against any other. The bill included the internet for the first time as well as traditional media markets of television and radio.
Also removed by the bill, were limits of ownership in any single communications market that prevented anyone owning too much of the media in any location or market. These previous limits prevented any one party from creating a monopoly and dominating a market.
The intentions of the bill ended up as great failures. Or maybe, great successes, depending on how you see it. Depending upon which side of the boardroom door you’re sitting.
According to the intentions of the Act as laid out by the Congress which passed it, the bill must be considered a failure. Competition has greatly decreased since the bill was adopted, not increased as intended. By removing caps to media ownership and allowing “anyone” to enter any market location or type, the obvious outcome has indeed arisen. That is, the largest existing media outlets, now substantially free of limits to their activities, simply entered new marketplaces, bought up smaller outlets, thereby only increasing their market dominance and reducing competition. The opposite of intentions.
This has had the effect of reducing the major media players in the American telecommunications market from about 75-80 in the 1980s to just 6 today. These are currently, in 2021,
Enacting just one of the two great changes to the American media market would have been detrimental to the quality of information shared with the public.
By enacting the Telecommunications Act AND by removing the fairness doctrine, the result has been….well, the result has been what we see today in America’s news media industry.
A splitting of American society into roughly three thirds – one third only watch Fox & their friends, one third only watch MSNBC & friends and one third are somewhere inbetween.
Context and fairness are long gone from most combatants. Statements, actions and beliefs are all highly misrepresented by all sides much of the time. Ratings wars are won by personal attacks on the opposition, hyper-partisanship and even straight out lies are nothing unusual. Well, I don’t need to tell you about it I’m sure….
Who misses out as a result of these changes? Almost everybody…
- news “consumers”, who nowadays come from around the globe, and who are now being indoctrinated by one cause or another, without them realizing it,
- foreign nations, many of which are frequently slandered with impunity by these media giants, in ongoing efforts to appear “tough” or “humanitarian” or whatever their PR created “brand” dictates they appear to be,
- America’s ordinary citizens, especially the poorest, who instead of having their government use taxpayers’ money to set up universal healthcare and free education, as is done in all other “developed” nations, the government of the citizen’s of the USA pays military and weapons corporations trillions of dollars to supply the equipment needed to attack and kill millions of people around the world.
And that last point – about America’s ordinary citizens missing out the most – is perhaps the most significant one of all. For there is at least ONE subject where all of America’s giant media combatants forget their rivalries and work, mostly, in unison – promoting War.
As noted previously, the global mainstream media are not just doing a poor job at communicating information to the public. That would be bad enough, but it would be still just tolerable. After all, everyone has good days and bad days, even many bad days sometimes.
However the global mainstream media are having more than just many bad days – they are all bad days and deliberately so. They are actively supporting wars, actively suppressing information that is critical of the conduct of failed wars, and in doing so, are actively promoting propaganda which aids and abetts in war crimes and crimes against humanity by western governments. These are words which have no real meaning anymore – and therefore provoke no real reaction from the public when these acts are committed.
We must ask, on the other side of the coin, the reverse question, “who wins from all these media changes and outcomes?”
Almost nobody. But there are some. Who all have vast holiday homes in the same exclusive areas. Whose children all go to the “right” schools. These are the very tiny number of elites who sit on the boards of each others’ corporations. Boardrooms which make the decisions beneficial to the companies and boardrooms of their friends in the other sectors of what we now commonly call, the Military-Industrial complex.
We should update the name these days to the Military-Industrial- Financial-Media- Congressional complex. Its members are constantly dizzy from the “revolving door” nature of corporate life today. Former members of Congress or the intelligence agencies (which are sectors of government) move through revolving doors to sit on the boards of weapons manufacturers and/or media giants. Former senior Congressional figures, who, in a previous life, used to create laws to protect people, are now employed by corporate giants, who use these politicians’ long experience to get around the same laws that they helped to create.
The needs of the few always take priority over the needs of the many today. Maybe it has aways been that way. It is very incestuous. And the results of this ongoing incest are clearly evident in contemporary American society. It can not go on forever.