As we prepare to usher in a new year, we have the perfect opportunity to review the top media ownership moments of 2008. It’s nearly impossible to catalog every one of them, but there are at least five worth mentioning. And while we’ve seen both ups and downs in 2008, the truth is, the media reform movement has never been stronger.
Here’s the countdown to No. 1:
5) Bloodletting in the Newsroom
Media consolidation has always led to job cuts, but the year that followed the FCC decision to gut ownership rules was particularly painful for newsroom staff. According to the tracking Web site Paper Cuts, 2008 saw more than 15,000 job cuts at American newspapers alone. Add this to the Tribune Company filing for bankrupcy, the New York Times mortgaging their building to stay afloat and NPR cutting 7 percent of its workforce, and you have a staggering picture of an American media system that is a shadow of its past self.
4) Citizens Sound Off on Media Ownership
On August 28, in nearly 50 cities and towns across the country, motivated citizens delivered tens of thousands of petition signatures calling on members of Congress to support the “Resolution of Disapproval” that would veto the Federal Communications Commission’s latest handout to Big Media. The House ended up putting the resolution on the back burner, but took time to thank the activists who worked so hard and kept the pressure on the FCC all year.
3) Protesting Pentagon Pundits
On April 20, a chilling exposé by the New York Times revealed a widespread and secret Pentagon program to spread favorable views of the Iraq war by recruiting and planting military analysts in the nation’s news media. These pundits became fixtures of war coverage on most major network, cable, radio and print news outlets. This propaganda wouldn’t have spread far if it weren’t for corporate media owners who have gutted newsrooms and replaced real journalists with cheap talking heads. The public response to the Pentagon pundits stirred up a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill, including legislation in the Senate and investigations within the Defense Department, the Inspector General’s Office and at the FCC.
2) The Senate Stands Up Against Big Media
On May 15, the Senate cast a near-unanimous vote to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s December 2007 decision to gut media ownership rules that have protected media diversity, competition and localism for more than 30 years. The Senate vote came after more than 250,000 people contacted their senators to call for a stop to rampant media consolidation. It was an unprecedented outpouring of protest that sent a powerful message to Capitol Hill.
1) A Media Reformer in the White House
Throughout his time on the campaign trail, Barack Obama has been a vocal opponent of media consolidation. Obama was a co-sponsor of the Senate resolution of disapproval. The day after the resolution passed the Senate, Obama released a statement encouraging his colleagues in the House to follow the Senate’s lead. He has continued that commitment as president-elect. Diversifying media ownership is one of the top priorities in his technology platform at http://www.change.gov. It is unclear what it will mean for Big Media to have a media reformer in the White House. While Obama has helped make media ownership a key political issue, there is still much work to be done to create a better media system in America in the coming years.
The National Conference for Media Reform – Media ownership took center stage at the 2008 National Conference for Media Reform, where more than 4,000 people gathered in Minneapolis. The conference included innovative sessions on media consolidation’s impact on media ownership by women and people of color, the Writers’ Guild strike, and more.
A Slippery Slope in South Bend – This year saw few new consolidation deals brokered, thanks in no small part to public pressure and lawmakers’ promises to overturn the FCC rule change. But one company tried to sneak through a dangerous deal in Indiana’s fourth largest city – South Bend. However, local activists and Free Press stepped in to try and stop it. The FCC is still debating the case.