A Monstrous Vision For Media Reform
posted at 8:57 am on February 19, 2010 by Danny Glover
It took 90 minutes but Tuesday evening’s panel discussion about the future of news ultimately devolved into a predictable attack by media “reformers” on commercial media and communications companies that see the Internet as their “plaything.”
The panelists — Robert McChesney and John Nichols of Free Press, Jane Hamsher of the blog Firedoglake, and Ivan Roman of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists — all said their ideas for media reform depend first and foremost upon winning a fight for control of the Internet. Their idea of victory is government oversight and massive federal spending.
“We are talking about spending money, substantial amounts,” Nichols said at the National Press Club.
McChesney lobbed the first grenade at cable and telecommunications companies near the end of the question-and-answer session. In defending the kind of spending he and Nichols advocate, he accused the government of giving “enormous subsidies to support commercial media” in the form of broadcast spectrum and “monopoly licenses to telephone and cable companies that they could build these Internet empires on.”
McChesney, whose group is part of a coalition that this week called on the FCC to impose sweeping regulations as part of a national broadband plan, said communications firms are among “the most hated companies in America,” not just by consumers but also by businesses that he said would benefit from such a broadband plan.
“The battle for a ubiquitous broadband that’s inexpensive and that is uncensored by the phone and cable companies at the bottleneck is absolutely essential,” he said. “Without that, everything else we’re talking about won’t take place.”
Free Press is subsidized by the deep pockets of billionaire George Soros and the current FCC is friendly toward the Free Press agenda of government interference in the Internet space, but McChesney still thinks the broadband deck is stacked against his side.
“This fight, we’re going up against King Kong and Godzilla on steroids,” he said.
McChesney accused phone and cable companies of having a business model aimed at “buying off politicians.” He called them monopolists who want “to take over and effectively privatize the Internet, make it their private plaything.”
McChesney’s rant against an imagined “rip off” perpetrated by “commercial media” is consistent with his oft-stated (but under-reported) “ultimate goal” of dismantling the capitalist system in general and getting rid of the “media capitalists” in particular. His perverted vision of a “free” press features a government that has regulatory and financial influence over both the infrastructure underpinning journalism and the people producing it.
“They tend to be fashioned to reinforce weak, existing structures,” Hamsher said. “If you start subsidizing the wrong thing, you freeze the innovation in that one model.”
But she also advocated an “egalitarian infrastructure spend” by the government on broadband in order to foster the growth of publications like hers so they can compete with the “elite media.” Hamsher claimed that telecom and media companies “cannibalize” the Internet by controlling the infrastructure.
“For people who really live and eat and breathe and need to be on the Internet just to be able to perform their day’s functions and live in society as a functioning, proactive person, [broadband access] is the prerequisite for everything,” she said.
The NAHJ’s Roman added: “Fighting against four companies that basically want to control the Internet in this country to me is the fight that we must have now for the future.”
And Nichols blasted Comcast and NBC for good measure, arguing that Free Press’ friends should invest some energy into preventing the firms from merging.
To recap: America’s truly free media market, the one we have now and that offers greater opportunity thanks to the Internet, is a rip-off. Cable and telecom companies that build networks and make the widespread dissemination of independent journalism possible are evil, money-grubbing monsters. And the government can make it all better.
That’s all you need to know to reject the reformers’ vision for media in a digital society.
[Cross-posted at Digital Society, where the author is the editorial director]