Democracy in Peril: Twenty Years of Media Consolidation Under the Telecommunications Act


Michael Corcoran | Truthout | February 11, 2016

(Photo: Television Broadcast via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act, which was bought and paid for by the corporate media lobbies, in 1996. In the current presidential race, media industry giants have donated much more to Hillary Clinton than to any other candidate. (Photo: Television Broadcast via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

 

Wall Street’s sinister influence on the political process has, rightly, been a major topic during this presidential campaign. But, history has taught us that the role that the media industry plays in Washington poses a comparable threat to our democracy. Yet, this is a topic rarely discussed by the dominant media, or on the campaign trail.

But now is a good time to discuss our growing media crises. Twenty years ago this week, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The act, signed into law on February 8, 1996, was “essentially bought and paid for by corporate media lobbies,” as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) described it, and radically “opened the floodgates on mergers.”

The negative impact of the law cannot be overstated. The law, which was the first major reform of telecommunications policy since 1934, according to media scholar Robert McChesney, “is widely considered to be one of the three or four most important federal laws of this generation.” The act dramatically reduced important Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations on cross ownership, and allowed giant corporations to buy up thousands of media outlets across the country, increasing their monopoly on the flow of information in the United States and around the world.

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