Where do the candidates stand when it comes to supporting alternative media?
So far this election, the media’s focus has been limited to calling (rather unsuccessfully) the long and short odds of the presidential candidates as they jockey for primary positions. Analysis of the candidates’ platforms has been scarce. We know that change = good, terrorists = bad, and health care reform is important (minus the details).
Beyond a few touchstone issues, though, information turns from scant to nonexistent. The sorry state of mainstream election coverage makes this much clear: A flourishing independent media should be a campaign issue. So we ferreted out the candidates’ stances on some key issues that determine the health of the country’s independent media, and homed in on two major strains:
First, we looked at their positions on media ownership, specifically recent trends toward consolidation. This includes the candidates’ responses to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule change in December that relaxed restrictions on a single company’s ability to own both a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same market. The rule change is a boon to industry moguls, and, as the Nation reports, poses a great threat to media diversity.
Second, we examined their stances on network neutrality—the belief that in order to preserve the democratic nature of the Internet, service providers shouldn’t be able to charge more based on content, website destination, or platform. In other words, the information highway shouldn’t become an information toll way. This fundamental tenet of the internet has helped usher in an era of unprecedented openness and participation in the creation of media.
There is a sharp contrast in the amount of airtime the two side’s candidates have given these issues. So far this election, supporting independent media appears to resonate more with the Democratic base than the Republican faithful (though federal moves like the recent postal rate hike have mobilized resistance from liberal and conservative publications alike). Despite a paucity of information, we scrapped together everything we could find about the Republican candidates’ views.
Senator Clinton cosponsored the Media Ownership Act of 2007 (S. 2332), a bill designed expressly to counter the FCC’s December rule change. The legislation would lengthen the comment and review periods on FCC rules changes, promote local programming, and encourage women/minority ownership. But the senator has also drawn fire for her odd political relationship with that poster goat of media consolidation, Rupert Murdoch. She took heat for her participation in a fundraising event Murdoch hosted for her in 2006, complaints about which resurfaced, the New York Times reports, at a campaign stop in November. Senator Clinton is also a cosponsor of the pro-network neutrality bill, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act (S. 215). However, the senator has been criticized from the techie-left for not making net neutrality a more prominent part of her campaign.
Along with Senator Clinton, Senator Obama cosponsored the Media Ownership Act of 2007 and the Internet Freedom Preservation Act. In addition, Senator Obama, ahead of the FCC’s December vote, coauthored a strongly worded op-ed piece with Senator John Kerry warning of the danger that media consolidation poses to women-, minority-, and independently owned media outlets. The two senators also sent a letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin threatening to work to cut the proposal’s funding if it passed. Obama has also pushed for the preservation of net neutrality on the campaign trail.
Huckabee has not articulated a clear position on media consolidation issues. However, the former Arkansas governor has given at least middling support to network neutrality. On 10questions.com, he likened the internet to a highway where vehicles from 18-wheelers down to motorcycles should be granted equal access.
Senator McCain told Michael Arrington of TechCrunch that he does not see any actionable problems with the FCC’s current policies and that the commission should aim to stay out of way of business: “I think [the FCC] should focus on policing clearly anti-competitive behavior and consumer predators. But, frankly, until some foul has been committed, I don’t think it should be interfering in the market, and probably shouldn’t be trying to micromanage American business and innovation.” The senator has not articulated a clear position on network neutrality issues, reports Politico.com.
Former Massachusetts Governor Romney has not articulated a clear position on either of these independent media issues.