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by Chris Alcantara
The FCC was originally created to license airwave use and to regulate all nongovernment use of radio and television on the airwaves, which were considered public property. Today, however, modern communications involve a much broader spectrum of communication channels than just the air waves, including wire, satellite, and cable as well. Considering the nature of the relationship between the public and politics, this makes the FCC an extremely attractive vehicle for politicians to push their ideas.

Although its separation from the government is clearly defined in its description, the line is blurred in its very structure. The contradictions of this claim of independence begin right from the top, with the FCC commissioners and chairperson being personally appointed by the president himself and confirmed by the Senate. How can an agency’s officers honestly claim autonomy from a government that self-appoints them?

Evidence of hand-in-hand relationships between the FCC and the presidential parties of the time go far back, but perhaps never as publicly as in 2000 when former FCC Chairperson Reed Hundt exposed it for all to see. In his book, You Say You Want A Revolution, Hundt describes in detail his “synchronized” agenda with the Clinton administration. Hundt openly admitted to such things as “orchestrating a White House summit to pressure broadcasters into programming beneficial to Clinton’s reelection” and making it his duty to “fulfill Al’s (Vice President Al Gore) vision for the information superhighway.”

With the affiliation between the FCC and the White House exposed, many hoped the situation would change. Unfortunately, with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulating the industry, and with recent events prompted by the Bush administration, the situation seems to only be worsening.

The “Telecommunications Act of 1996” successfully deregulated big-business ownership of the communications world making it that much easier for politicians to take advantage. In the years since the act was passed, the top 10 radio groups, including Westinghouse/CBS and Capstar Broadcasting Partners, have doubled their station ownerships dropping the already low minority ownership to under a measly 3 percent. These big businesses now can make large political contributions in turn for their increased profits from the deregulation.

It also leads to the big corporations willingly working with the politicians that helped them get rich once they’re in office. One example of this, is the “coincidental” relationship between President Bush and the CEO of Clear Channel Communications, Mark Mays. Mays is not only a Republican, but a very close friend of George Bush, Sr. and has proved a large financial supporter of past Bush campaigns. Furthermore, radio personalities hostile to the current President Bush were effectively gagged by the FCC. For example, during the campaign for the 2004 elections, former FCC Chairperson Michael Powell (son of former Secretary of State Colin Powell) effectively pulled radio shock jock Howard Stern off of the air in the key electoral swing states of Florida and Pennsylvania after Stern did a “Bush-bashing” about the Iraq war on his popular morning show.

Another case, also during the most recent presidential campaign, the danger of media consolidation was made clear when Sinclair Broadcasting, another Bush supporter, ordered all of its 62 television stations nationwide to cancel regular programming to show a documentary critical of Senator John Kerry just days before the election.

The current administration is shameless in allowing this “favor-for-favor” system to play out right in front of the public. Will the already precariously thin lines between big business and our government soon be nonexistent?

Seemingly overwhelmed by the many battles fought in his term as chairperson, Powell resigned in January of this year. However, with Bush’s appointment of his successor, Kevin J. Martin, who “just so happens to be” a former economic aide to Bush, the hopes for a separation of FCC and the Bush administration’s political agenda, any time in the near future, look grim.

 

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