Hard-hitting journalism is nearing extinction on television, and the Federal Communications Commission just threw another shovelful of dirt on its grave when it recently ruled that Rupert Murdoch's broadcast of TMZ and Pat Robertson's 700 Club meet the test for "a bona fide newscast." Bona fide newscast? You tell me:
Here's why the FCC decision matters. According to a Pew study, sixty percent of Americans get their primary election news from TV. That's a scary thought when you consider the level of "quality" journalism coming from the nation's networks, and the dearth of diverse opinions being offered about our biggest concerns. Remember this after the next election when millions of hard-working Americans are once again duped into voting for political candidates who actively work against their very interests.
Media companies get their broadcast licenses for free. In return, the FCC says that if a TV show is not a bona fide newscast, and it airs a story about a political candidate, "it must afford equal opportunities to other such candidates for that office." Congress defines bona fide newscasts as those that hold "genuine news value" and are not intended to boost or aid any particular political candidate.
This provision is supposed to keep ideologues like Robertson in check, not allowing them to blatantly toe the line for their own corporate and political interests while labeling it "news." But instead, the FCC let them off the hook by adding TMZ and 700 Club to the list of bona fide newscasts. Stamping junk news as genuine isn't new; Entertainment Tonight got its bona fide pass from the FCC in 1988.
What's particularly disturbing about this FCC ruling is that it highlights the amount of influence that Big Media has in Washington, and the level of government corruption that allows it to happen.
Television is still the place where a vast majority of Americans learn about politics and the world, and as long as television continues its race to the bottom, our fragile democracy will continue to fail its people.
If you're like me, you're tired of throwing the remote at your TV and reading another scandalous story like this one. The way to fix the media problem is by continuing to demand that our elected representatives hold the FCC and Big Media accountable, and by actively supporting the visionary work of using the Internet to fundamentally transform our media system.
And transform it we can. Television will soon be delivered by a digital Internet connection. Televisions and computers are morphing into the same product. And policies are being crafted today (literally) in Congress that will shape the Internet for generations. Policies that will determine whether a cartel of phone and cable companies turn the Internet into their own fiefdom, or whether every Web site will be able to become a television or radio network, breaking open access and distribution of media content for generations.
The policies being made in Washington right now are that simple and that profound. And the more people understand it and get involved, the more likely it is that we will have a media that holds government and corporations accountable, and less vulnerable to the whims of Rupert Murdoch and Pat Robinson.