It's crunch time at the Federal Communications Commission, whose chairman Michael Powell has set a June 2 deadline to make a decision on relaxing cross-ownership rules for TV and radio stations. Those supporting the concept include Powell, at least one other Republican FCC commissioner and executives of the handful of top media properties in America.
Those opposing include, well, just about everyone else. From Common Cause and NOW to the Family Research Council and the NRA, dozens of organizations spanning the political spectrum, with cumulatively tens of millions of members, have registered their opposition to increased cross-ownership.
Even some media moguls are opposed. Barry Diller and Ted Turner have denounced the idea. Media consolidation may not be the biggest danger America faces. But America should know what's at stake. In 1989, the Big Three networks - ABC, CBS, and NBC - held a 17 percent share of TV programming. By 2002, relaxed rules increased that percentage to 48 percent. Add Fox, AOL-Time Warner, and ATT/Liberty, and these six megacorporations today control two-thirds of all programming on television.
Further deregulation will not mean greater opportunity for competition. Rather, it will mean the opposite: More control of the airwaves by the few, with even less accountability to the market than they demonstrate today.
The concept of community standards is alien to the suits in New York. Their bottom-line programming philosophy means bottom-of-the-barrel programming, and quality be damned.
What are those community standards? To find out, last year the Parents Television Council sent out over 1.5 million community standard audits, of which over 128,000 were returned. The numbers speak for themselves.
Should there be graphic violence during children's viewing time? No, said 94.2 percent. Partial nudity during that time? No, said 93.1 percent. Should shows promote the homosexual lifestyle in the face of kids? No, said 94.6 percent. The same percentage said no to prime-time promotion of oral sex, and sex involving minors. Roughly the same number of survey respondents objected to blasphemous language, excretory language, descriptions of sexual encounters or strong sexual language.
Guess what? All these things can now be found on broadcast television, courtesy of those media megacorporations that could care less who they offend. And now they're asking the FCC for more stations to sell more offensive programming.
Indecency on broadcast TV between the hours of 6 AM and 10 PM, when children are likely to be watching, is against the law. And the FCC is charged by Congress with enforcing that law. How many stations in the continental U.S. has it fined over the years since its enforcement division was formed for broadcasting indecent material? According to a review of the FCC's website, the answer is ... none.
Martha Kleder of the Culture and Family Report recently reported on yet another dramatic example of how the FCC is failing the fight for any community standards in radio broadcasting while it nibbles around ownership quotas. In San Jose, KSJO-FM pays for billboards that scream, "Listen to Mikey before we fire him ...... again."
Last July, shock jock Mikey Esparza was suspended with apologies from Clear Channel (that supposed conservative outfit) after a brave seven-year-old girl, Erica Pratt, escaped from kidnappers in Philadelphia days after the media focused on the abduction of Elizabeth Smart. Pratt had chewed through her duct-tape restraints.
Esparza brazenly joked on the air: "That's why I don't use duct tape. That's why I use nylon rope." Following a commercial break, Esparza continued: "Let's say, for instance, you're somebody that is a kidnapper. Think of all the nylon rope you could get at Orchard Supply Hardware. Plus, they sell tarps... I'm sure they sell lye to dissolve the body."
How on Earth does any responsible broadcaster not only hire this sicko, but give him repeated opportunities to disgust? And even use billboards to advertise: listen to him for his next outbreak of madness?
Esparza was soon back on the air and unrepentant. On September 4, 2002, KSJO aired a self-produced song written by Esparza called - I'm not making this up - "The Statutory Rape Song." The lyrics included: "Check out that cute little girl over there, is she nine or is she twelve...I'm feelin' frisky, I know it's risky. Friday night I need a bite, underage girls with some cellulite." The song concludes with the words, "I like to videotape, I'm into statutory rape." Unbelievably, after another suspension, the station put him back on the air this January.
Local citizens were filing complaints with the FCC Enforcement Bureau a year ago. How much has been done or said here in Washington? Nothing. That's where the public's outrage ought to be directed - at the actual content of what shameless media companies will put on the air to make a filthy buck.