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When Whinosaurs Attack!

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From the same people who brought you Fear Factor, Temptation Island and When Animals Attack! comes one of the most-shocking-but-true stories of hubris, greed and endless griping imaginable.

This is a tale of the vastly powerful but sniveling giants who control your TV, dictate much of our political discourse and get rich doing it -- all while evading even the most basic forms of public accountability.

This isn't just another reality show -- it's the reality of what's airing on every local TV station. And as far as station owners and their lobbyists are concerned, their business is none of yours.

Broadcasters have pocketed gazillions over the years while using the airwaves free of charge. In exchange, they're supposed to serve the public interest with programming that reflects community needs. But the Federal Communications Commission's modest attempts to hold broadcasters to their end of the bargain are being met by a teeth-gnashing, fire-breathing rhetoric... and pitiful mewling about how hard it is to use a computer.

But like so many of the reality stars before them, these whiny media dinosaurs -- or whinosaurs for short -- have no shame.

A Series of Rubes

So what kind of onerous government inquisition has drawn the whinosaurs' ire?

Well, the FCC has asked broadcasters to put the "public files" every station is supposed to keep upon the Internet, so it's easier for people to view them. While nearly every other industry has found electronic record-keeping to be a better way of doing business, broadcasters are desperately clinging to their dusty file cabinets.

They're actually claiming, in the year 2012, that putting this basic information online -- in other words, PDF-ing a document and posting it to the Web -- is far too laborious.

Somehow, these broadcasters, who have managed to make pictures fly through the air and into your living room for 70 years, are still relying on paper records and perhaps abacuses. Their arguments basically boil down to: "Keep your newfangled Google machines out of our buildings."

It's ridiculous. As a coalition of public interest groups recently wrote to the FCC: "Those broadcasters that continue to rely solely or primarily on handwritten documents and manual updating of political files would do well to reevaluate their business practices with an eye to joining the modern world."

Steve Waldman, the main author of last year's exhaustive FCC report on the future of media, has been the leading voice in favor of the FCC's proposals and against the whinosaurs. "The rest of the world has figured out ways to use the Internet to reduce workload and cost," Waldman recently wrote on the Columbia Journalism Review website. "I'm not sure the broadcasters want to take the position that they will be the one industry that can't possibly be expected to use the Internet to improve efficiency."

Back in the USSR

The FCC is also pushing broadcasters to put records of political ad buys online -- records the stations are already required to keep. This information is especially important in 2012, when broadcasters will rake in billions of dollars from election ads.

So why not give the public a way to know who's trying to influence them? As Waldman explains: "Putting that information online would allow the public and reporters to better understand the flow of money in political campaigns."

Yet according to Allbritton, the TV station owner and publisher of Politico, this is nothing less than the first step on the road to a "Soviet-style standardization of the way advertising should be sold as determined by the government." Because the Ruskies are so renowned for their transparency efforts?

All this hyperventilating and hyperbole is especially galling when it comes from organizations that are supposed to be practicing journalism. As 12 leaders of the nation's top journalism schools wrote in a letter to the FCC: "Broadcast news organizations depend on, and consistently call for, robust open-record regimes for the institutions they cover; it seems hypocritical for broadcasters to oppose applying the same principle to themselves."

But hypocrisy is another telltale trait of the whinosaur.

Get with the Program

Lastly, the FCC is proposing that stations keep basic records on what kinds of programming they put on the air. Imagine the audacity in asking broadcasters, who have made money hand over fist from squatting on the public airwaves, to report back on how much news or locally originated programming they actually do.

Yet according to the FCC filings of 48 state broadcast associations, the request for standardized reports "carries with it the high risk that the commission will find itself not just at the edge of a First Amendment cliff, but in a catastrophic plunge that intertwines the commission and its staff for the indefinite future in the journalistic news judgments of television stations nationwide."

Such claims are preposterous. The FCC has not proposed any quotas or programming requirements -- all it is asking, in exchange for an exclusive and lucrative license, is for broadcasters to report back on what they are already doing.

Maybe the broadcasters are just unwilling to face up to the disconnect between their consistent claims that they're giving the audience what they want, and the conflicting reality that wherever you go the one thing people are sure to agree on is that their local news must be the worst in the country.

Now is the time to tell the FCC to ignore all this whining and move forward with its common-sense plans to encourage transparency and accountability. The whinosaurs have a reputation as fierce lobbyists and are good at making a lot of noise. But the climate is changing.

So whinosaurs be warned: You either evolve, or you go extinct.