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  • BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company

  • SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: When you have more and more control of the

  • media in the hands of a few of these giant billion-dollar corporations, I think you're

  • not going to have the kind of debate and discussion and information that makes our democracy the

  • kind of democracy it should be.


  • MICKEY EDWARDS: There's a reason to have political parties.

  • But to give them the control they have over our political system is just wrong.

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Welcome. Sometimes we can see the universe in a grain of sand, as the old

  • saying goes, but nowadays a graphic chart more vividly reveals the world we live in.

  • Take a look at this statistical snapshot of the media ecology that largely determines

  • what you and I see, read, and hear.

  • In 1983, 50 corporations controlled a majority of media in America. In 1990 the number had

  • dropped to 23. In 1997, 10. And today, six.

  • There you have it. The fistful of multinational conglomerates that own the majority of media

  • in America. What do we call it when a few firms dominate the market? Oligopoly. Doesn’t

  • quite rhyme with democracy. But today, believe it or not, big media is about to get even

  • bigger, unless the public stands up and saysNo!” Here’s the story.

  • The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission -- the FCC, the agency of government

  • created by Congress to protect the public’s rightful ownership of the airwaves -- is reportedly

  • asking the other four commissioners to suspend the rule preventing a company from owning

  • a newspaper and radio and TV stations in the same big city. Thus he would give the massive

  • media companies free rein to devour more of the competition. The chairman is Julius Genachowski,

  • appointed to the job by President Barack Obama. Now, the FCC tried to pull this same stunt

  • under a Republican chairman back in the second term of George W. Bush, but at hearings held

  • around the country an angry public fought back.

  • WOMAN: We told you a year ago when you came to Seattle

  • that media consolidation is a patently bad idea. No ifs ands or buts about it. So with

  • all due respect I ask you, what part of that didn’t you understand?

  • MAN: I’m a Republican and I’m a capitalist,

  • but some areas of our private sector must be regulated. Freedom of information is too

  • important, we must be proactive in protecting that fundamental freedom.

  • WOMAN #2: If the FCC is here wanting to know if Chicago’s

  • residents are being well served, the answer is no. If local talent is being covered, the

  • answer is no. If community issues are being treated sensitively, the answer is no. If

  • minority groups are getting the coverage and input that they need, the answer is no. The

  • answer is no.

  • WOMAN #3: If you will not stand up for we the people,

  • then I have news for you. We the people are standing up for ourselves. This is our media,

  • and we are taking it back.

  • BILL MOYERS: An estimated three million Americans wrote

  • the FCC and Congress to protest giving big media more power, and the Senate passed a

  • resolution against the proposal. When the FCC tried again, a federal court of appeals

  • blocked it, demanding the Commission report on how the new rule would impact media ownership

  • by minorities and women. Back then, Senator Barack Obama opposed the FCC’s proposal.

  • So did Senators Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. But now, President Obama’s man at the FCC

  • they were friends in law schoolapparently wants to do what the Republicans couldn’t

  • do under President Bush, and to do it behind the scenes, out of sight, with no public hearings.

  • Several public interest groups, civil rights organizations and labor unions opposed the

  • move, and last week, Senator Bernie Sanders and several of his colleagues called on Chairman

  • Genachowski to hold off. Bernie Sanders is an outspoken opponent of media consolidation.

  • He sees it as a threat to democracy. Once the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he served

  • l6 years in the House of Representatives and was recently re-elected to his second term

  • in the Senate. He’s the longest serving independent in the history of Congress. He

  • was in New York earlier this week and we met for this interview.

  • Welcome. Good to see you again.

Good to be with you, Bill.

This is a strong letter, inspired one of your colleagues in the Senate says,

  • by you. What's the beef?

What the chairman of the FCC is now talking about is making

  • a bad situation much worse by loosening up the cross-ownership rules, which means now

  • that a media giant, one of the big companies, whether it's Murdoch's News Corp. or anyone

  • else, will be able to own major television stations, a newspaper, and radio stations

  • within a given community. And that means people are just not going to be hearing different

  • points of view.

I brought with me a story fromThe New York Timesthat drives home

  • the point you're making. It begins with a dateline out of San Angelo, Texas. "Call a

  • reporter at the CBS television station here, and it might be an anchor for the NBC station

  • who calls back. Or it might be the news director who runs both stationsnews operations.

  • The stations here compete for viewers, but they cooperate in gathering the news -- maintaining

  • technically separate ownership, [and] sharing office space, news video, and even the scripts

  • written for their nightly news anchors.”

  • And here's this, "The same kind of sharing takes place in dozens of other cities, from

  • Burlington, Vermont,” your home state, “where the Fox and ABC stations sometimes share anchors,

  • to Honolulu, where the NBC and CBS stations broadcast the same morning [news]." Is that

  • what you're talking about?

That's exactly what I'm talking about. I can tell you that when

  • I was mayor of that same city, Burlington, Vermont, we used to hold press conferences.

  • You would have four or five or six different radio stations showing up. You know, we'd

  • be talking about the school board or the city council local issues. Now if we're lucky we'll

  • have one radio station showing up. And that's true all over the United States

  • of America. And the point here is not right wing or even left wing. The point is that

  • the tendency of corporate America is not to discuss at length the real issues that impact

  • ordinary people. If you owned a television station, for example, do you think you'd be

  • talking about the impact that Citizens United has on the American political system, when

  • you're receiving huge amounts of money because of Citizens United? If you are General Electric,

  • which has been a major outsourcer of jobs to China and other countries, do you think

  • you're going to be talking about trade policy in the United States of America or maybe nuclear

  • power in the United States of America?

But this puzzles me. The FCC tried to do essentially the same thing four

  • years ago, as you know, in the last year of the Bush Administration. And the Senate went

  • on record against it. You passed a strong resolution to say, "This far and no further."

  • Why would President Obama's FCC chairman, try to do now what the Republicans couldn't

  • do then?

That is a very good question, Bill. And I don't have the answer.

  • And it's not only that the Senate passed a strong resolution. There were public hearings.

  • And there was the opportunity for the public to give input into this decision making process.

  • And huge numbers of people said, "Wait a second, we do not need more media consolidation in

  • America." Senate came on record. So why the Obama Administration is doing something that

  • the Bush Administration failed to do is beyond my understanding. And we're going to do everything

  • we can to prevent it from happening.

You may remember that back in 2007, your then senatorial colleague, Barack

  • Obama wrote a strong letter to the Republican chairman of the FCC who wanted to change the

  • rules, just like Genachowski is doing now. And he condemned the very tactics that his

  • own FCC chairman is employing today.

Absolutely. And we hope the president will get involved in

  • this issue. So I don't-- to be honest with you, I don't know the internal dynamics of

  • why what is happening is happening. I know you got a couple of Republicans on the board,

  • who are very sympathetic to moving forward toward more consolidation. But why Genachowski

  • is taking the position he is, I don't know. But I think it would be very helpful. And

  • we will try to get the president to remember what he said four or five years ago.

You said a moment ago that you recall these hearings that were held across

  • the country. There was a lot of people, there were a lot of people attending. There was

  • a lot of anger at those hearings. Three million of those folks wrote letters to the Senate

  • and the FCC. There doesn't seem to be the opposition this time. What has changed?

Well, what's changed is they're moving quickly and quietly and

  • secretly. And I think there has not been the kind of attention that we need to focus on

  • this issue. And I think Genachowski is smart enough to know that that is not what he wants.

  • What the Bush people learned is that when you open this up to public discussion, very

  • few people in America think it's a good idea for fewer and fewer conglomerates to own more

  • and more of the media, especially in a number of cities. So they're apparently trying to

  • move this under the radar screen. And that's something we're going to try to halt.

Are you calling for public hearings on this?

Absolutely. No, we're going to do everything that we can to

  • involve the public in this. The idea, I mean, even, let's give credit to the Bush administration.

  • They came up with a terrible idea, but at least I think they had about a half a dozen

  • public meetings. They allowed the public to write into the FCC.

And the last time the FCC tried to do this, the U.S. Court of Appeals for

  • the Third Circuit ordered the commission to hold up, that it should first evaluate the

  • impact of any rule changes on the ownership by females and minority. What impact do you

  • think this new rule would have on minority and women in the media?

Well, the truth is that right now, in terms of minorities

  • and women, there is relatively, an embarrassing little amount of ownership. No one doubts

  • that if you move to a situation where corporate America, the big guys, own more and more of

  • the media, it will mean that minorities and women and those folks who don't have big bucks

  • are going to be squeezed even further to the periphery. So it will be bad for minorities.

  • It will be bad for women. And most significantly, it will be bad for American democracy.

Some people argue that newspapers are failing anyway. That they're going under,

  • losing advertising, cutting their staffs, losing their readership. And that it would

  • be a good thing for these big, profitable corporations like GE and Murdoch's News Corporation

  • to take them over and subsidize them, the same way Rupert Murdoch does the tabloidNew