Our democracy is threatened by voters being misinformed by foreign governments. It’s the worst possible time for federal regulators to gut media-ownership rules and enable further media consolidation.
Americans now know for certain that Russian propaganda flooded social media, feeding voters fake news and distorting their perception heading into last year’s presidential election.
Facebook belatedly disclosed that more than 126 million users may have viewed this material, paid for by a Kremlin-linked company.
This was an attack on our democracy, which depends on informed voters making decisions based on facts, not whipped into a lather and pushed down a chute by foreign governments trying to undermine America.
Speak out against media consolidation
The FCC’s proposed “reconsideration of broadcast ownership rules” was released Oct. 26. It will be considered at the FCC’s Nov. 16 meeting, which is a short time frame for substantial rule making. Submit comments at fcc.gov/ecfs.
The country must shore up defenses on several fronts.
Rules mandating transparency and reporting of political-ad spending should be updated to encompass new media platforms, such as Facebook and Google. They now dominate ad spending and are gateways to news. They absolutely should play by the same reporting rules that apply to traditional media.
A good start is the bipartisan Honest Ads Act sponsored by U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor. It would give voters information about who is attempting to influence them and help the government identify foreign interference in elections.
Net neutrality rules must remain, to prevent manipulation and throttling of access to information online by companies willing to pay more.
Americans should also oppose efforts to gut media-ownership rules that preserve the diversity of news sources that voters need.
These rules, established in 1975 and reaffirmed in 2016, limit how many TV stations and newspapers companies can own in a local market.
The intent is to ensure that news is provided by a variety of outlets committed to local service. The rules also limit further media consolidation, which usually leads to less reporting, especially of local news.
Ajit Pai, President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Federal Communications Commission, is rapidly moving to eliminate these rules.
A prime beneficiary would be Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcasting Group, a conservative media giant close to Trump that’s now the largest U.S. broadcaster and owner of Seattle’s KOMO. Sinclair is pursuing a $4 billion merger with Tribune Media that would give it reach into 72 percent of U.S. homes.
The FCC’s proposed “reconsideration of broadcast ownership rules” was released Oct. 26. It will be considered at the FCC’s Nov. 16 meeting, which is a ridiculously short time frame for substantial rule making. Submit comments at fcc.gov/ecfs.
The proposal incorrectly says the rules are no longer needed because there are plenty of news sources nowadays.
Yes, online media has proliferated. But professional news gathering is declining. Many outlets post news items. Relatively few invest in reporting, editing and producing news — especially local news, which is a focus of the rules.
The FCC proposal also ignores key lessons from the Facebook-Russia fiasco: Our democracy is threatened by voters being misinformed. Deliberate efforts to misinform and mislead voters are enabled by media consolidation: They’re easier when voters rely on a handful of giant media companies spending as little as possible on journalism.
Americans — and the nation — must have a variety of independent sources of news. Our system breaks down if 326 million people are being informed by only a few outlets providing news on the cheap.
Former FCC member Michael Copps said it well:
“Give the American people the news and information they have to have,” he said, “to make intelligent decisions for the future of their country.”