In a report released yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that the FCC consistently leaks vital information to corporate lobbyists and Big Media stakeholders, giving them a leg up on sensitive votes and rules. Industry representatives admitted to the GAO that they had been given key confidential information before critical votes. In contrast, the representatives of consumer and public interest groups were consistently left out of the loop. This insider knowledge allows industry reps to meet with FCC staff to lobby their position before major decisions are made, while the public is left in the dark.
Let the Sunshine In
For too long, media policy has been made in secret, behind closed doors. This recent GAO report highlights this fact, pointing out that when critical decisions are about to be made only Big Media is invited to give their input. This special treatment is due in part to the revolving door between Big Media lobbying firms and the FCC. Forbes reports that “The FCC trails only the White House and the House of Representatives in the number of employees who have passed through Washington’s ‘revolving door’ from the public to the private sector, or vice versa.” FCC Chairman Kevin Martin himself was formerly a lobbyist, and FCC staffers regularly take cushy lobbying jobs when they leave the government.
The people who are most affected by the media have been kept out of the process for too long. The FCC needs to bring their policymaking process into the light of day. After all, the public owns the airwaves. The kind of insider-trading the GAO exposed causes incalculable damage to our media system, the public trust, and our democracy.
A Forgotten Mandate
When the FCC was established in 1934, it was tasked with the regulation of the public airwaves in a manner that supports diversity, localism and competition. Yet today we have six companies who control a vast majority of what we see, read and hear; and these same Big Media companies are being given handouts by the FCC that allow them to get even bigger. Somewhere along the way, the FCC has forgotten its commitment to the public.
Media shapes our lives in powerful ways, and we should have an equally powerful say in shaping it. We need the FCC to reclaim their mission and invite the public to the table.