We need media diversity

Sue Wilson is an award-winning Sacramento television and radio producer

This month, the Federal Communications Commission, under the chairmanship of Michael Powell, will consider whether to change the rules concerning media ownership. Under the proposed new rules, one company in a community would be able to own the newspaper, several TV and radio stations, the cable system and the principal Internet-access company.

There would be fewer owners of networks, stations and newspapers nationwide.

Sacramento is a prime example of how concentrated media ownership can destroy the diversity of ideas in one market. There are 16 major radio stations licensed in Sacramento. Once controlled by a variety of owners, today, the stations are owned by only three companies today.

The effects of concentrated ownership here have been chilling. A case in point is the former upstart station KSTE. In the mid-1990s, with a liberal talk format, KSTE gained swift ratings ground on KFBK 1530, the radio home of Rush Limbaugh. Chancellor Broadcasting, KFBK’s owner, subsequently purchased rival KSTE and simultaneously took away both the station’s liberal voice and its ratings.

Now, there is no wide diversity of news and information on Sacramento airwaves. Rush Limbaugh, Michael Medved, Michael Savage, Tom Sullivan and others all have conservative points of view; there are no liberals. The owner of one station told me, “We do have Rush on the right, yes, but we have Dr. Laura on the left.” Enough said.

This lack of media diversity is a community problem. At a recent forum sponsored by the Capital Unity Council, citizens criticized KFBK’s “all right, all the time” policy but were told by a Clear Channel (corporate owner of KFBK) vice president that there is no commercial demand for liberal ideas, so the station couldn’t put them on the air.

Perhaps he should review the history of Clear Channel station KSTE’s Arbitron ratings to learn there is enormous demand for alternative points of view.

Democracy requires the debate of ideas. All the people own the airwaves; all the people need the opportunity to have their ideas heard.

Democraticmedia.org offers in-depth information about the concentration of media, and the site is providing an easy form to make your views known to the FCC on this matter. The deadline for comments is January 2, the day this issue of SN&R hits the streets, so please act quickly.