The FCC And "We": A Media Sermon From Mount Dissector
And then unto China came POTUS (President of the United States, in the lingo of the Secret Service), a messenger from the Republic of Enron, to preach the gospel about the path to true freedom. Go ye, he urged, beyond Maoism. Beyond Marxism. And yes - will the choir say amen - beyond Materialism.
For we all are human beings, sayeth Bush the younger to the youth of the Middle Kingdom. We must embrace faith and the path of the spirit. It was this diplomacy on behalf of a divinity that led the American president to press the people's republic to awaken to the heavenly kingdom. Suddenly, politicians are co-opting the language of the Church.
At the same time, in a far less historic place and in a much less public role, one of HIS servants, the son of Colin Secretary of Empire and chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) pledged his loyalty to another god, who, for many, represents the false idol. Earthlings know this man of power as Michael Powell.
He had proclaimed to all who would hear a heresy common in his time: "The Market Is My Religion." Known by some to suffer from a syndrome known as foot in mouth, Powell had hoped for salvation of another kind, but alas, it has yet to smile upon him.
Here is the Confession of Desire from the wizard who runs this mighty agency of media control: "The night after I was sworn in, I waited for a visit from the angel of the public interest. I waited all night, but she did not come."
Alas, this commish had not dissected the same website that I had, the one revealing a biblical lesson about who these angels are, and what they really do. What I learned from this holy sanctuary in cyberspace is: The "she" you wait for, Mr. Chairman, is really a WE. Behold, Michael P.:
Allow me to lay THE WORD unto you as transcribed from the Virtual Church, one of the 42,500 sites referring to Angels on our common web of wonder. It teaches and preaches, "It is important to recognize ... that God doesn't just sit in heaven and push buttons on a control panel. He uses 'messengers,' better known to us by the Greek word: angels.
The Biblical view of the universe is not the modern one of vast reaches of barren space interrupted every couple of million miles or so by flying dead boulders. The Biblical view of the universe is that it is teeming and throbbing with life everywhere. The cosmos is heavily populated with 'legions' and 'myriads' of angelic beings."
Hark, You Herald Angels Sing
In the hope that I can consider myself a part of those legions and, perhaps for this moment, even a member of the myriads (or at least of a minyan therein), allow me to advocate for this often unheard Angel community.
Last week, a Court of Appeals in that neo-Babylonian Capital known as Washington dropped a legal decision on broadcast regulation that set moguls to cheering with the avaricious expectation that they will soon be owning and controlling and running and dominating more and more and MORE of the broadcast spectrum, and of the stations and of the networks, and the broadcast technologies in use now, as well as others to be invented, in the future and for perpetuity, which is a very long time.
So once the court ruled, a mighty roar was heard from one corner of Times Square to another, as the mighty merger-ers of a media country they already control called upon their investment bankers to get out their calculators of greed to crank up the engines of consolidation still further. Acquisition time had come and gone, and here it is again.
Beseeching the Courts
These broadcasters had to the Court gone with a plea for free speech, if you can believe it, an argument that suggested that their rights, their very freedoms and their holy claim to serve the Nation was being interfered with by oppressive, draconian, if not downright COMM-U-NISTIC government regulation. This included rules intended to promote diversity of ownership and check the instinct to monopolize all media in fewer and fewer hands.
"Unfair," their well-paid lawyers chanted, drowning the court with briefs and documents and footnotes and precedents, compiled in the course of endless billable hours. Set us free, they appealed to the Judges of Appeals with the passion of a latterday Martin Luther King. And there, in their Amen corner, sat Michael Powell, cheering them on.
But Judges judge not merely what mere lawyers bring before them. They have their own ideas. In this case, these buccaneers in black robes decided to toss all that freedom rhetoric into the trash can of jurisprudence as the canard it was. Instead, they got down, without any shame or hesitancy, to the most reactionary interpretation they could come up with in defense of the rights of property over the interests of the public.
They decided to vacate the TV-cable cross-ownership rule, along with the one that's barred any mogul from owning TV stations in more than 35 percent of the country. To them, this number was simply "arbitrary" - a legal no-no. This turn of phrase makes their ruling perhaps even more sweeping because it forces the FCC itself to prove a lack of arbitrariness and then defend every media ownership rule it has, or abandon them.
This will lead to deregulation - and fast. Thanks to the 1996 telecom act, the FCC has to review all its regulations every two years and consider which ones it can eliminate. This Court ruling has opened the door to FCC elimination without popular participation. In short, this was less a Court ruling and more a Holiday Gift, a big present to the handful of companies that already control most of the media.
At this, the angels of our better nature and those with a more enlightened view of the law and the interests of the people, were aghast. This legal spark, they fear, will light a prairie fire of yet more media concentration. Their worries were acknowledged by industry monitors at USA Today: "Rather than try to defend the current limits, Powell is expected to use the court rulings as a springboard for further deregulation - and that would likely spark more big media mergers.
"'But if all the channels are owned by' a few firms, fewer perspectives are expressed, says Consumers Union's Gene Kimmelman.
"Powell isn't so sure. 'This is some sort of Citizen Kane idea that our thoughts will be directed to particular viewpoints. But the overwhelming amount of programming we watch is entertainment, and I don't know what it means for the owner to have a political bias. When I'm watching Temptation Island, do I see the little hallmarks of Rupert Murdoch?'"
The Temptations of Temptation Island
So now we know that Powell, keeper of the nation's media culture, watches that source of enlightenment, Temptation Island. This may be a good thing to know. He will be no stranger to pressures to force him off his well-insulated island.
When will the angels appear? The media-active among us are planning to sound their bugles like Gabriel with a call that wraps agitation with the imagination. Hark, this is their call: "Angels of Public Interest shall descend upon Washington, D.C., three hours past noon on the 22nd day of March in the vicinity of the Federal Communications Commission at 445 12th Street NW.
These Angels say to the FCC that Media and Communications Technology Should Forever Serve People Over Profits. We encourage all Angels such as yourself to come to the gathering dressed in your best Angel garb - halo, wings, glitter, the whole nine yards."
Some of these Angels are planning a peaceful rebellion against Powell's policies. Among their demands are that the FCC shall serve public interest by:
I. Dismantling the monopolistic concentration of media and communication systems.
II. Promoting information as a worldwide common good. This shall include defending public airwaves from privatization and dismantling any Intellectual Property Rights policies that act to prohibit the sharing of knowledge.
III. Supporting and encouraging the creation of media content that respects pluralism and diversity of expression, and balance in terms of gender, race, culture, language and geographic region.
IV. Promoting the creative, widespread use of interactive technologies in such a way that these technologies are open to all and do not further create new sources of social fragmentation.
V. Defending civil liberties and privacy from all invasive use of surveillance technology.
VI. Banning advertising during children's television programs and by supporting the taxation on all advertising aimed at adults. For more angelic proposals about communication as a right, see the Communication Rights in the Information Society.
The fifth century Pope Leo the Great said, "Peace is the first thing the angels sang." Today's angels fight for justice and media accountability. Tennessee Williams said that if he got rid of his demons, he would lose his angels. I think it is the other way around. The Angels will rule only when the demons of media distraction are squeezed back into what Al Gore called a "lockbox."
In the 1700s, another Pope, the poet Alexander Pope, put this prophecy into poetry: His words echo through the ages:
"Men would be angels, angels would be gods. Aspiring to be gods, if angels fell, Aspiring to be angels, men rebel."
In our age, Michael, the "She" you wait for is coming too, coming to get you. Rebels are on the way.
- Danny Schechter is executive editor of MediaChannel.org.