Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Concentrated Power
distributed 5/30/03 - ©2003

Remember the controversy about the Dixie Chicks two months ago?

As the US went to war with Iraq, one of the singers in that country-rock trio made a comment about being embarrassed that President Bush comes from her home state of Texas. That sort of criticism did not sit well with many country music listeners.

The controversy stayed in the headlines when radio stations pulled Dixie Chicks songs from their playlists. That use of media power to stifle political dissent created an uproar.

According to the New York Times, the blocking of the Dixie Chicks was orchestrated by radio stations owned by Clear Channel Communications -- a Texas-based corporation that controls more than 1,200 radio stations nationwide.

In January -- 2 months before the Dixie Chicks controversy erupted -- the Wall Street Journal said that Clear Channel "is rapidly becoming the lightning rod for concerns about media consolidation as the FCC moves forward with a sweeping revamp of its media-ownership rules."

The Dixie Chicks are back on the air, and their concerts are selling out, so maybe no long-term harm was done -- this time. But the power of a huge broadcasting corporation to bring political perspectives into their programming, and to make or break artists, was made very clear.

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Rumor has it that next Monday, June 2, the US's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on new rules about TV media ownership. We have to go on rumor, because the FCC has not publicly announced any details about the agenda for their next meeting, or about the rules that they will be voting on.

If the scuttlebutt is on target, a majority of the commissioners will vote in favor of provisions that will:

  • allow a single corporation to own the stations that reach up to 45% of US households;

  • allow one corporation to own several TV stations within a given market; and

  • allow cross-ownership of the dominant TV station and the dominant newspaper in a single market (so the TV news and the local newspaper will say the same thing).

If the FCC implements these changes, it is very likely that many communities will see less competition in local TV news programming. (And, as any good capitalist will tell you, competition makes for better products.) That lack of competition probably will mean less local news, and less diversity in the content and editorial perspective in the news.

The US Congress might override new rules from the FCC, but the best place to stop bad rules is before they are made. Many community and political action groups -- from all across the political spectrum -- are trying to block the FCC's June 2 vote. Among them, the US Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) has an on-line system where you can send personalized comments to the FCC commissioners, with copies sent to your members of Congress.

I urge you to access the USPIRG site and compose your own message to the FCC.

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Next week's FCC vote on media ownership is just one instance of a far broader question with profound eco-justice implications. The concentration of power into limited hands almost always diminishes democracy and hurts those who are out of power.

  • The development of huge agribusiness corporations (such as Monsanto and Tyson) limits the products, prices and markets that are available to farmers, and diminishes choices for consumers. Among the ecologically harmful practices that are advanced by the power of these agribusiness conglomerates are the loss of genetic diversity, heavy use of chemicals, abuse of animals on "factory farms," and pressures for the extensive use of genetically modified crops.

  • Years of experience -- at state and national levels -- show that political control of the House, the Senate and the administration by a single party tends to diminish debate and produce more extreme policies. (That feels less objectionable when your party is the one in control, but it still has the effect of disenfranchising lots of people.)

  • The emergence of the US as the world's only superpower has allowed this nation to pursue its own policies and interests with relative disregard for the legitimate interests, perspectives and needs of other nations.
When power becomes concentrated, people try to find ways to re-balance the system. Unions bring organized power to bear against strong corporations. Monopolies are subjected to governmental regulation. The US Senate has procedural rules to empower minority opinions. Revolutions and terrorism break out when powerful governments and institutions deny democracy and squelch diversity.

Next week's FCC vote is only one case where the concentration of power is evident. It is an important case that deserves our clear and immediate action.

Whenever we see power becoming concentrated, let us work to balance, or regulate, or otherwise limit that power. Let us act for the sake of all people -- for the sake of all of God's creation.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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