The Ten-Point Plan for Media Democracy Petition sign now

If you can say yes to the two questions below, sign on to this petition with a statement of endorsement, pass it along to everyone you know, and call Congress toll-free at (888) 355-3588.

1. Do you support Rep. Maurice Hinchey's Media Ownership Reform Act (MORA), which seeks to restore integrity and diversity to America's media system by significantly lowering media ownership caps?

According to Hinchey, "These caps will keep the power and influence of large telecommunications companies under control and encourage smaller businesses to participate and compete, bringing a greater diversity of viewpoints into media programming. MORA also reinstates Cable/Broadcast Cross-Ownership rules, which forbid any company from owning and operating a broadcast station and a cable station in the same market, limiting the influence of that company on the various media outlets. The bill also restores the Fairness Doctrine, compelling broadcast news outlets to investigate issues thoroughly and present their findings in an unbiased way" (more on this below).

2. Do you support the Ten-Point Plan for Media Democracy from the Center for Digital Democracy's Jeffrey Chester from the July 3rd "Nation"? Chester, like Hinchey's MORA, in the very first point of his plan, calls for re-diversification of the ownership of television and radio stations, cable systems and newspapers.

Chester's Ten-Point Plan also includes enforcing federal antitrust law to stop AT&T/BellSouth merger of broadband, voice, and video and other similar mergers, net neutrality (new rules that would protect the principles of nondiscrimination and open access-- stopping AT&T and Comcast from turning the internet into a toll road), making sure that the FCC sets aside additional spectrum for unlicensed use and that unused TV spectrum is available for wireless internet (Wi-Fi) applications, restoring the right of municipalities to undertake their own broadband projects, thoroughly overhauling and tightening existing privacy regulations, universal digital service, more diverse broadband content, more minority ownership of local and national broadband outlets-- and a rejection of the Bush-backed Intellectual Property Protection Act (more on this below).

The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but the people themselves, nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.
-- Thomas Jefferson, 1816

"In contrast to authoritarian states, democratic governments do not control, dictate, or judge the content of written and verbal speech. Democracy depends upon a literate, knowledgeable citizenry whose access to the broadest possible range of information enables them to participate as fully as possible in the public life of their society. Ignorance breeds apathy. Democracy thrives upon the energy of citizens who are sustained by the unimpeded flow of ideas, data, opinions, and speculation."
-- U.S. Department of State International Information Programs
[usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/whatsdem/whatdm3.htm]

Thanks to Andi Novick, Manna Jo Greene, Fred Nagel, Helena Kosorek, and Leslie Simmons from Northeast Citizens for Responsible Media-- and to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, Jeff Cohen, Amy Goodman, Danny Schechter, Alan Chartock, and Jeffrey Chester for their inspiration for this petition effort-- and thanks to Andi Novick in particular for the Thomas Jefferson and Department of State quotes just above; they're from Re-Media.org.

"Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has."
-- Margaret Mead

Joel Tyner
Dutchess County Legislator
324 Browns Pond Road
Staatsburg, NY 12580
[email protected]
Blog @ MidHudsonAlliance.com
(845) 876-2488

------------------------------------

Rep. Maurice Hinchey's Media Ownership Reform Act (MORA)-- H.R. 3302-- co-sponsored by sixteen other members of House of Representatives (Rep. Peter DeFazio [D-OR], Rep. Bob Filner [D-CA], Rep. Alcee Hastings [D-FL], Rep. Marcy Kaptur [D-OH], Rep. Barbara Lee [D-CA], Rep. James McDermott [D-WA], Rep. James Moran [D-VA], Rep. Major Owens [D-NY], Rep. Bernard Sanders [I-VT], Rep. Janice Schakowsky [D-IL], Rep. Louise Slaughter [D-NY],Rep. Hilda Solis [D-CA], Rep. Fortney Stark [D-CA], Rep. Maxine Waters [D-CA], Rep. Diane Watson [D-CA], and Rep. Lynn Woolsey [D-CA])
[house.gov/hinchey/issues/Media\%20Ownership\%20Reform\%20Act\%20of\%202005.pdf; govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h109-3302]

THE PROBLEM

The American media is becoming increasingly dominated by large telecommunications companies that are pressuring smaller companies out of the market and shrinking the diversity of voices in our media environment.

* Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress and the Federal Communications Commission have repeatedly altered our nation's media ownership rules by increasing media ownership caps that limit the number of media outlets one company is permitted to own in a single market. The result has been greater consolidation in the media industry, with telecommunications giants buying up more and more television and radio stations, newspapers, and other media outlets, forcing local and independent media owners to be bought up or go out of business, and denying public access to a wide array of information.

* As part of a large deregulation process in 1987, the Reagan administration dissolved the Fairness Docrine, an important piece of legislation that required broadcast news programs to cover controversial topics in a fair and balanced manner. First introduced in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine's suspension was a massive blow to journalistic integrity, forcing the general public to lose trust in media outlets from which they receive news and information each day.

THE SOLUTION

* Congressman Hinchey introduced the Media Ownership Reform Act, which seeks to restore integrity and diversity to America's media system by significantly lowering media ownership caps. These caps will keep the power and influence of large telecommunications companies under control and encourage smaller businesses to participate and compete, bringing a greater diversity of viewpoints into media programming.

* MORA also reinstates Cable/Broadcast Cross-Ownership rules, which forbid any company from owning and operating a broadcast station and a cable station in the same market, limiting the influence of that company on the various media outlets.

* The bill also restores the Fairness Doctrine, compelling broadcast news outlets to investigate issues thoroughly and present their findings in an unbiased way.

------------------------------------

"A Ten-Point Plan for Media Democracy" by Jeffrey Chester
[thenation.com/doc/20060703/chester-- The Nation 7/3/06]

[Jeffrey Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy (www.democraticmedia.org), a Washington-based nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining the diversity and openness of the new broadband communications systems. He is the author of the forthcoming Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy, to be published in late fall by The New Press.]

Ten years after the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, digital technologies are rapidly reshaping the country's communications system. It will be the most powerful media environment ever created--always "on" with connections via PCs, digital TVs and an array of mobile devices, delivering a torrent of personalized, interactive and virtual content, much of it coming from the nation's most powerful traditional and new media companies (e.g., AT&T, Comcast, Google, Microsoft). The next several years are critical to insure that the promise of what we now experience online--and its vast potential to help build a just civil society--is fulfilled. With Congress poised to pass legislation that rewrites key parts of the Telecom Act, the following ten action items should be on any media reform agenda.

1. Media Ownership

The GOP-controlled FCC wants to eliminate key media ownership restrictions affecting TV and radio stations, cable systems and newspapers. Expect fewer owners of our most powerful outlets and a further decrease in journalism budgets.

Action: Join the new "Stopbigmedia" coalition (www.stopbigmedia.com) to promote diversity of media ownership and content. Also, work against the renomination of FCC chair Kevin Martin.

2. Mergers

Sprawling new media powerhouses are emerging, in which offline and digital content and distribution, advertising and marketing are tied to the same multinational giants. For example, the pending AT&T and BellSouth merger will create a colossus spanning voice, broadband and video.

Action: Join with Media Access Project (www.mediaaccess.org) to fight the AT&T/BellSouth merger. Push for new laws to restore our trust in antitrust.

3. Network Neutrality

We can't permit the Internet to come under the control of phone and cable companies, like Comcast and AT&T, that want to transform it into a toll road, with fast lanes for corporate media and a digital dirt road for everyone else.

Action: Join the "strange bedfellows" coalition, which includes MoveOn.org, the American Library Association and the Christian Coalition, pressing Congress to pass "network neutrality" rules to protect the principles of nondiscrimination and open access. Join Save the Internet (www.savetheinternet.com).

4. Spectrum Management

The wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) has been an unprecedented success, with more than 35,000 hot spots (many of them free) operating in the United States. But for the wireless broadband revolution to continue, it needs new unlicensed spectrum. Big communications companies, including broadcasters, want to keep for themselves what should be the public's airwaves.

Action: Urge the FCC to set aside additional spectrum for unlicensed use and support legislation currently in Congress that will make unused TV spectrum available for Wi-Fi applications. The New America Foundation (www.newamerica.net) has been leading the charge for enlightened spectrum management.

5. Community Broadband

Municipal wireless systems represent the most promising alternative to the two-fisted stranglehold that cable and telephone companies currently have over the broadband Internet. Fourteen states, acting at the behest of the cable and telco lobbies, have passed laws limiting these efforts, and others are considering such restrictions.

Action: Urge your Representatives to support federal legislation (e.g., the municipal broadband provision in the otherwise objectionable Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement [COPE] Act) that will restore the right of cities to undertake their own broadband projects. See Free Press's Community Internet page (www.freepress.net/communityinternet/=US).

6. Privacy

As the recent furor over NSA access to millions of private telephone records makes clear, we need to update privacy protections for the digital age. Such protections should extend into the commercial arena too, where new data-collection and -mining technologies, coupled with personalized marketing campaigns, represent a new threat to our personal privacy.

Action: Call for a thorough overhaul of existing privacy regulations, beginning with a requirement for "affirmative consent" before personal data can be collected, and covering the latest developments in digital data collection and analysis. See the EPIC website (www.epic.org).

7. Intellectual Property

Just as privacy protection must move from the analog to the digital domain, so must copyright law reflect the reality of networked computers and other personal devices. Congress's initial effort in this regard, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, went way overboard in its desire to protect content owners (namely, the entertainment industry), and the principle of "fair use" suffered accordingly.

Action: Urge your Representative to reject the Bush-backed Intellectual Property Protection Act (which compounds the DMCA's excesses) in favor of legislation that preserves fair use. See www.publicknowledge.org.

8. Universal Digital Service

Millions of Americans still lack basic Internet, let alone broadband. We need new approaches to achieving "universal service," the policy that sought to make telephone service affordable for low-income and rural Americans.

Action: Call for Congress to expand the Universal Service Fund in the digital era, and support efforts to bridge the digital divide through municipal Wi-Fi and community networking projects.

9. Diverse Broadband Content

The phone industry is building a new system that will deliver interactive TV programming and broadband content (e.g., Verizon's FiOS and AT&T's Project Lightspeed). Cable is also expanding its network offerings. Progressive media must make sure their content is on these networks. We must also build and expand new media services, including digital TV programming channels, broadband websites and mobile networks.

Action: Urge phone and cable companies to open their system to progressive, alternative and diversely owned content. Funders must support an independent digital infrastructure.

10. Minority Ownership

African-Americans, Hispanics and others have fared poorly in the media business, owning only a handful of radio and TV stations. Most of the cable outlets aimed at minorities are owned by corporate giants (e.g., Viacom now owns BET and Comcast controls the new TV One service for African-Americans).

Action: Civil rights groups need to take a more adversarial approach to the media monopoly-- seeking minority ownership of local and national broadband outlets.

------------------------------------

"Access of Evil" by Amy Goodman [The Nation 7/3/06]
[thenation.com/doc/20060703/goodman; also see DemocracyNow.org]

If President Bush had stood on the steps of the White House with a megaphone when he set out to sell the Iraq War, he might have convinced a few people about the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein. But he had something far more powerful that convinced far more people: He had a compliant press corps ready to amplify his lies. This was the same press corps that investigated and reported for years on President Clinton's lying about an extramarital affair. The difference here was that President Bush's lies take lives.

In order to be able to get that all-important leak from a named or, better yet, unnamed "senior official," reporters trade truth for access. This is the "access of evil," when reporters forgo the tough questions out of fear of being passed over.

And then there is the embedding process. Journalists embedded with US troops in Iraq bring us only one perspective. How about balancing the troops' perspective with reporters embedded in Iraqi hospitals, or in the peace movement around the world? Former Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke proclaimed the embedding process a spectacular success. For the Pentagon, it was. More powerful than any bomb or missile, the Pentagon deployed the media.

During the Persian Gulf War, General Electric owned NBC (it still does). A major nuclear weapons manufacturer--which made parts for many of the weapons in the Gulf War--owned a major television network. Is it any surprise that what we saw on television looked like a military hardware show? According to the New York Times, CBS executives "offeredadvertisers assurances that the war specials could be tailored to provide better lead-ins to commercials. One way would be to insert the commercials after segments that were specially produced with upbeat images or messages about the war."

After the Gulf War, Pentagon spokesperson Pete Williams jumped ship, but he was hardly crossing enemy lines. He became a correspondent for NBC. Just over a decade later, another Pentagon spokesperson, Victoria Clarke, gave up her position to work as a CNN commentator.

During the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, MSNBC, NBC and CNN--not only Fox--called their coverage Operation Iraqi Freedom. We expect the Pentagon to research the most effective propagandistic name to call its operation. But the media's adoption of Pentagon nomenclature raises the question: If this were state media, how would it be any different?

While the big players in the National Entertainment State deserve much of the blame, other major news outlets have truly outdone themselves in their total affront to the role that an independent media should play in a democracy. The New York Times and its former national security reporter Judith Miller were critical to the successful promulgation of the WMD lie, with repeated front-page, above-the-fold articles pumping the false stories about aluminum tubes and buried weapons caches, to name a few, all reliant on unnamed sources.

Sinclair Broadcast Group, which controls close to sixty TV stations, acts like a junior version of Fox News, with right-wing biases in its lackluster coverage. Sinclair refused to broadcast an ABC Nightline segment on which the names of killed US servicemen and -women were read, continuing the Bush Administration campaign to deny to the American public bad news about the War on Terror. Sinclair also broadcast with much fanfare a Swift Boat Veterans-inspired smear piece against John Kerry at a critical moment in the 2004 presidential race.

And then there's the Clear Channeling of America. Enabled by the Clinton/Gore-backed 1996 Telecommunications Act, the Bush-connected Clear Channel Communications, which began with a dozen radio stations, ballooned into a 1,200-plus-station radio network. According to South Carolina's 2002 Radio Personality of the Year, who believes she was fired for her antiwar beliefs, Clear Channel led prowar rallies, forbade certain songs from being played and silenced critics.

In 1997 the late George Gerbner, former dean of the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School of Communication, described the media as being "driven not by the creative people who have something to tell, but by global conglomerates that have something to sell." And almost ten years later, it still rings true. We need an independent media. Democracy Now!

------------------------------------

"Mega-merger Mania" by Eric Klinenberg [The Nation 7/3/06]
[thenation.com/doc/20060703/klinenberg]

Since 1996 an unprecedented spate of media mega-mergers has made it difficult for anyone to know which conglomerate owns what outlet, even in our own cities and towns. Meanwhile, aspiring media giants that don't appear on the map--corporations such as Clear Channel Communications (which owns around 1,200 radio stations and provides programming for 5,000 others), Tribune Company (the only corporation to own a newspaper and broadcast television station in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago) and Sinclair Broadcast Group (which owns, operates, programs or provides sales services to fifty-eight television stations in thirty-six markets)--have aggressively lobbied Congress and worked the courts to eliminate the few remaining ownership caps. If The Nation runs a twentieth-anniversary consolidation chart in 2016, they want to be on it.

Unfortunately, most Americans no longer need a map to know that consolidation has degraded the media ecosystem on which the nation's democratic and cultural life depends. During the past decade, as chains and conglomerates took over locally owned and -operated newspapers, radio stations and television stations everywhere, Americans experienced the downside of concentration firsthand. The local reporters, veteran TV anchors, producers and live DJs who once provided the stories, sights and sounds that made our hometowns feel like home have become endangered species in the age of Big Media, replaced by the same wire copy, digitally voice-tracked radio programs, video news releases and other canned content that runs in every market, coast to coast.

No one, except the owners of conglomerates, benefits from concentrated control of local media, and in the past decade public outrage over the costs of consolidation has helped turn the embryonic media reform movement into the nation's fastest-growing bipartisan political project, uniting progressives from MoveOn.org and Common Cause with conservatives from the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association, and everyone in between. When former FCC chairman Michael Powell tried to gut the nation's already feeble media ownership restrictions in 2003, he set off a torrent of popular dissent so strong that some 3 million letters of complaint, written by members of an expansive bipartisan coalition, poured into the capital over the next two years, while citizens packed town halls in big cities and small towns to protest.

This summer it's prime time for the media reform movement once again. On May 26 the Senate confirmed Robert McDowell's appointment as the third Republican commissioner on the five-member FCC. Like the current chairman, Kevin Martin, McDowell is a former Bush campaign worker, and he pledges to eliminate the "cumbersome underbrush of unnecessary government regulation." Analysts expect that chairman Martin will soon initiate a new process to further relax media ownership rules. Since Americans overwhelmingly oppose more media deregulation, Martin's success depends on whether he can work with Congress to change the laws quickly and quietly, without stirring up much public debate. If Big Media has its way, the policy decision that will help shape the future of democracy in America will be made without any democracy at all.

------------------------------------

"The Death of News" by Mark Crispin Miller [The Nation 7/3/06]
[thenation.com/doc/20060703/crispinmiller]

Ten years ago, when we first focused national attention on the dangers of the US media cartel, the situation was already grim, although in retrospect it may seem better than it really was. In the spring of 1996 Fox News was only a conspiracy (which broke a few months later). CNN belonged to Turner Broadcasting, which hadn't yet been gobbled by Time Warner (although it would be just a few months later); Viacom had not yet bought CBS News (although it would in 1999, before they later parted ways); and, as the Telecommunications Act had been passed only months earlier, local radio had not yet largely disappeared from the United States (although it was obviously vanishing). One could still somewhat plausibly assert, as many did, that warnings of a major civic crisis were unfounded, overblown or premature, as there was little evidence of widespread corporate censorship, and so we were a long way from the sort of journalistic meltdown that The Nation had predicted.

Thus was the growing threat of media concentration treated much like global warming, which, back then, was also slighted as a "controversial" issue ("the experts" being allegedly at odds about it), and one whose consequences, at their worst, were surely centuries away--a catastrophic blunder, as the past decade has made entirely clear to every sane American. Now, as the oceans rise and simmer and the polar bears go under, only theocratic nuts keep quibbling with the inconvenient truth of global warming. And now, likewise, few journalists are quite so willing to defend the Fourth Estate, which under Bush & Co. has fallen to new depths. Although its history is far from glorious, the US press has never been as bad as it is now; and so we rarely hear, from any serious reporters, those blithe claims that all is well (or no worse than it ever was).

Contrary to the counterclaims in 1996, there was, as The Nation noted then, copious hard evidence of corporate meddling with the news, and also, even more important, lots of subtler evidence of reportorial self-censorship throughout the media cartel. And yet what stood out as egregious back then seems pretty tame today, now that the press consistently tunes out or plays down the biggest news, while hyping trivialities, or, if it covers a disaster, does so only fleetingly and without "pointing fingers." (New Orleans is now forgotten.) The press that went hoarse over Monica Lewinsky's dress is largely silent on the Bush regime's subversion of the Constitution; its open violation of the laws here and abroad; its global use of torture; its vast surveillance program(s); its covert propaganda foreign and domestic; its flagrant cronyism; its suicidal military, economic and environmental policies; and its careful placement of the federal establishment into the hands of Christianist extremists. Whether it's such tawdry fare as Jeffrey Gannon's many overnights at Bush's house, or graver matters like the Patriot Act, or the persistent questions about 9/11, or the President's imperial "signing statements" or--most staggering of all--the ever-growing evidence of coast-to-coast election fraud by Bush & Co., the press has failed in its constitutional obligation to keep us well informed about the doings of our government.

In short, our very lives and liberty are at unprecedented risk because our press has long since disappeared into "the media"--a mammoth antidemocratic oligopoly that is far more responsive to its owners, big shareholders and good buddies in the government than it is to the rest of us, the people of this country.

Surely other factors too have helped wipe out the news: an institutional over-reliance on official sources; the reportorial star system, with its corruptive salaries and honoraria, and all those opportunities to hobnob with important criminals; the propaganda drive against "the liberal media"; the stupefying influence of TV, which has dragged much of the print world into its too-speedy orbit; etc. The fundamental reason for the disappearance of the news, however, is the media cartel itself. Fixated on the bottom line, it cuts the costs of real reporting while overplaying cheap crapola; and in its endless drive for more, it is an ally of the very junta whose high crimes and misdemeanors it should be exposing to the rest of us. It is past time, therefore, to go beyond the charting and analysis of media ownership, to boycotts, strikes and protests of the media cartel itself.

------------------------------------

Rep. Maurice Hinchey's June 21st Statement on FCC Meeting on Media Ownership Rules
[house.gov/apps/list/press/ny22_hinchey/morenews/062106FCCOwnership.html]

Washington, D.C. - Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) released the following statement in response to today's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) meeting, at which the Commission voted to initiate a review of media ownership rules. Hinchey, who led the fight in the House against the FCC's 2003 effort to overturn media ownership rules, is the founder and chairman of the Future of American Media (FAM) Caucus, which is designed to educate members and staff about media issues before Congress and to ensure that all parties - especially the American public - have a chance to participate in the vital debate over media policy. Hinchey is also the author of the Media Ownership Reform Act, which would restore fairness in broadcasting, reduce media concentration, ensure that broadcasters meet their public interest requirements, and promote diversity, localism, and competition in American media.

"The FCC's decision today to review regulations limiting media consolidation comes as no surprise; Chairman Kevin Martin has made it quite clear that he intends to overturn the existing rules, which are our last backstop against the concentration of print and broadcast media into the hands of a few major corporations.

"Media consolidation is one of the most dangerous issues confronting our democracy. As control of the media is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer conglomerates, local reporting disappears, the diversity both of viewpoints and ownership disintegrates, the marketplace of ideas shrinks and, as a result, the media will cease to be the crucial check on the power of the federal government that the founding fathers intended.

"When the FCC attempted to overturn media-ownership regulations in 2003, the Congress, the courts and, most importantly, the public expressed their clear opposition to these efforts. It's no coincidence, then, that Chairman Martin waited to raise this issue until he had stacked the deck in his favor, holding off on beginning this review until he had a clear majority to support his position. It's a travesty that, despite the definitive bipartisan support for the existing rules, the FCC is introducing partisanship into an issue that is much bigger than politics.

"In 2003-2004, the FCC ignored the hundreds of thousands of Americans who expressed their opposition to the proposed rules during the public comment period, and only held one public hearing outside of Washington to hear what the public had to say. This was a grave mistake, and one that the Commission should not repeat. The American public has a right to know the full implications of these proposals and they have a right to be heard by the FCC. I will continue using the power of my office to ensure that this is a lengthy, open and transparent process."


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Emily GordonBy:
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