The International Federation of Journalists today warned that the relaxation of media ownership rules in the United States and Europe opens the door to a new era of global media power that could damage democracy and diversity.
IFJ leaders gather in Brussels this weekend only days after regulators eased restrictions in the United States that will allow some of the world's biggest media companies to strengthen their grip on local press, radio and television outlets throughout the US. At the same time, new laws in the United Kingdom will open up the world's second largest English-language media market to further concentration.
"The power of media moguls to change the rules to suit themselves is reaching unprecedented levels," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "For instance, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, one of the biggest global players, has been given an early Christmas present by political leaders in Washington and London, but it is a giveaway at the expense of pluralism and quality in media."
The IFJ is concerned that across Europe and in other settled democracies, such as Canada and Australia, traditional rules to protect diversity in media will come under renewed pressure. "We are already seeing an intolerable assault on the values and quality of public broadcasting," said White, "with people who work in the industry paying the price with cuts in jobs and living standards."
The power of global media corporations - most of which are based in the United States - has grown enormously in recent years and the IFJ says easing existing rules will further reduce the scope for alternative opinions to be heard and will increasingly place these corporations outside the orbit of democratic accountability. "We need to urgently consider how international institutions can play a role in restraining the growth of media corporations that may pose a danger to democratic pluralism," said White.
The US Federal Communications Commission voted 3 to 2 on Monday to support the demands of the big communications corporations lobby against the protests of consumer, religious, trade union, community and public interest groups across the country.
Media conglomerates will now be able to buy up hundreds of newspapers, television and radio stations in communities across the United States. Competition, diversity and local content will be undermined in local markets and nationally, says the IFJ.
The IFJ, whose affiliates in the United States covering newspaper staff, broadcast and film workers and writers, played a leading role in public protests over the changes, says US citizens are angry with FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who refused a request from FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein -- as well as more than 120 members of Congress -- for a delay in the vote to allow more public consultation over the changes. Copps and Adelstein voted against the rule changes, and highlighted the fact that more than 95 percent of comments formally filed by members of the public to the FCC opposed the changes.
But the battle is far from over. Legal challenges are likely to follow and Congress has the power to overturn the rule changes and some members of the House and Senate have already indicated that they will try to do that. The first step in this process could begin tomorrow when members of the FCC are expected to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee.
The IFJ says that US public concern reflects increasing hostility world-wide to media when they exploit information services at the expense of democratic, cultural and social values. "Dismissing public fears is dangerous game," said White. "Political leaders should be wary of giving in to corporate friends if it leads to an explosion of public anger."