by Tim Danahey
In 2008, Rush Limbaugh signed a $400 million ten-year contract with a company called Premier Radio Networks which is owned by Clear Channel. Clear Channel was purchased and taken private by Bain Capital and a couple other investors. Clear Channel owns 850 radio stations across the nation, over forty TV stations, nine satellite channels, and much more worldwide.
Clear Channel also syndicates Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and others.
It’s market reach is extraordinary. Rush Limbaugh claims he has 20 million listeners a day although that number has never been independently verified. It is generally agreed his audience has fallen over one third in the past year.
What’s the point? Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was enacted to replace the Communications Act of 1934, media consolidation has enabled wealthy corporations to buy community radio stations, local newspapers, and television stations with relative impunity.
It has also enabled cable television and broadband facilities to be concentrated into the hands of just a few corporations.
This trend has accelerated since the Citizens United ruling and spending on political ads has been unleashed.
The significance of these developments is to have centralized command of information and entertainment programming. With multiple media outlets, profit-driven corporate control, and the lack of community accountability, there is a tendency to cut, cut, and cut local content and overhead, and broadcast a single corporately-approved voice such as Rush Limbaugh from one location to remote and minimally-staffed stations across the country. It means just a handful of songs are played rather than providing forums for local and regional performers to gain exposure.
In the world of talk radio, the trend is alarming. In 2007, there were 257 news-talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners and 91% of the total weekday talk radio programming was conservative. 9% was progressive. These numbers exist in a country where one-third of the population is conservative, one-third is progressive, and one-third is independent.
The supposition that talk radio is dwindling, TV viewers are declining, and newspaper subscribers aren’t renewing may be self-fulfilling observations as the giant media corporations only look at production cost cutting rather than investment in investigative reporting, diversity of opinions, and community accountability. The prevailing approach is to convey one mass-produced and corporate-approved voice.
As a result, “Duck Dynasty” and “Kardashians” dominate programming and the national and local debates on governmental accountability and independent investigations have all but disappeared. William Paley at CBS had to withstand tremendous pressures to allow Edward R. Murrow the latitude to challenge Senator McCarthy’s attack on due process, evidence, and Constitutional rights. But Paley stood behind journalistic integrity.
Ben Bradlee at the Washington Post demanded his reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, uphold strict journalistic standards and they set in motion the process to hold a corrupt government accountable to the people and lead to President Nixon’s resignation.
Will Bain Capital, Harper-Collins publishing, or Rupert Murdoch stand behind these same journalistic standards that have served the nation’s citizens for over two hundred years? Would they invest long-term in investigative reporting, copy editors, and future Ben Bradlees to rebuild their falling customer bases and community relevancy or would they accelerate cost-cutting to sustain their bottom line profits in the face of declining revenues? Evidence suggest the latter choice is in effect.
Some people say talk radio is “dead”. Traditional books are “dead”. The music industry is “dead”. Print newspapers are “dead”.
This talk may be premature. The term “dead” may mean “they can’t control it”. Musicians are incredibly creative and energetic developing their audiences and distributing their music. The major record labels are suffering but independent music is thriving. The same is true with films, self-published books, and on-line newspapers.
If the story ended here, you could stop reading. However, the story starts here. Being a consumer of news and entertainment is now requires more effort and a greater consciousness of what is being consumed. It necessitates consumers appreciate and value the musician’s work and purchase it for a dollar even though it can be copied from a friend. If a subscription to a local newspaper costs $200 a year and it has chosen to cut staff and costs rather than build community relevancy, then news consumers should send $25 per year each to their eight preferred news sources that have supplanted Bain or Murdoch.
Gathering news and challenging its accuracy has become hard work. Holding power accountable is not free. Writing music and producing it for distribution requires investment. Jefferson understood the value democracy placed in an informed electorate.
The alternative to to try and run a democracy based upon the teachings of Rush Limbaugh and Duck Dynasty. Bain and Murdoch will appreciate your support.
“The advancement and DIFFUSION of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” – James Madison
RELATED TIM DANAHEY SHOW AUDIO INTERVIEW
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