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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.

  • BILL MOYERS: And

  • 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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  • BILL MOYERS:
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.

  • SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS:
Good to be with you, Bill.

  • BILL MOYERS:
This is a strong letter, inspired one of your colleagues in the Senate says,

  • by you. What's the beef?

  • SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS:
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.

  • BILL MOYERS:
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?

  • SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS:
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?

  • BILL MOYERS:
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?

  • SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS:
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.

  • BILL MOYERS:
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.

  • SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS:
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.

  • BILL MOYERS:
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?

  • SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS:
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.

  • BILL MOYERS:
Are you calling for public hearings on this?

  • SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS:
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.

  • BILL MOYERS:
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?

  • SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS:
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.

  • BILL MOYERS:
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