Last month the Federal Communications Commission voted to remove the requirement that radio and television broadcasters have an actual physical presence in the communities to which they are licensed, opening the door to more station consolidation, automation, and syndication.
This month, the agency went on quite a tear: it repealed regulations that prohibit a single company from owning the major radio/TV stations and newspaper in a single market. This comes on the heels of the reinstatement of a regulation that encourages the merger of Sinclair and Tribune Broadcasting to proceed.
Furthermore, the Commission sowed the seeds for the eventual collapse of a program designed to subsidize broadband access for the poorest among us. And it endorsed the adoption of a new digital TV broadcast standard which will allow stations to customize programming to individual viewers, a la your Facebook feed. It will also require you to buy a new TV or conversion-box, similar to what was required during television’s initial analog/digital transition. (Incidentally, one of the strongest proponents of and investors in this new technology is Sinclair.)
Next month, as an extra-special Christmas present to the public interest, the Commission will vote to repeal the regulations that preserve network neutrality, and has opened the door to doing away with rules that require the cable industry to report yearly on industry competition and pricing trends.
In the up-is-down world of the Trump era, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has the temrity to call this dismantlement of regulation in the public interest an act of “regulatory humility,” but in reality it’s just an element of the campaign Trump-whisperer Steve Bannon has dubbed the “deconstruction of the administrative state” for the purposes of plundering it. This is happening at many other agencies that fall under the rubric of the executive branch: note the lobbyists that now run the Environmental Protection Agency; the avowed enemy of public education that oversees the Department of Education; and bankers openly pillaging the Department of the Treasury, just to name a few.
Over in the judicial branch, which is expected to host challenges to the FCC’s maneuverings, our nation’s chief executive is appointing people who the legal profession has deemed unqualified, some of whom have never even tried a case.
Massive shocks are being administered to the entire federal regulatory system and they come so fast and furious that it’s nearly impossible to fully assess their implications until well after changes have taken root. This is the essence of living in late capitalism, as the “perfection” of the market as the defining paradigm of American humanity reaches a self-destructive apex. In the context of media and democracy, the FCC’s actions this year (both past and planned) will cause irreparable harm to the cultivation of an informed citizenry, without which a democracy cannot exist.