An open letter to Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai:
As you have probably noticed our media landscape is a mess. With only five companies owning the bulk of media, especially the news media Americans consume, every day we witness a fragmented message.
And it is only going to get worse.
As commissioner, you are aware that The Telecommunications Act of 1996, signed into law by then President Bill Clinton, has put Americans today at a clear disadvantage from those who received news from the major media outlets prior. Currently most Americans get their news from stations who agree with their ideology. Citizens have limited exposure to opposite points of view and this results in limited understanding of what is happening within our country and around the world.
Since you are in charge of communications, Commissioner Pai, you have the power to fix this situation. Here are a few simple suggestions:
- Bring back The Fairness Doctrine. I fully understand why President Reagan decided to withdraw this rule for media organizations. We, as a populous were more mature and at the time, those in charge of the message came in the form of 90- plus independent media outlets. Today we have only five outlets and with that comes a tremendous amount of responsibility that apparently those five are not ready to handle.
- Require all news outlets to clarify what is fact and what is opinion. This should include regulating the use of “I have heard,” “Some people say,” and any other phrasing that cannot be sourced. The monitoring of the use and abuse of anonymous sourcing would assist in clarifying when a news outlet is interjecting commentary. Perhaps you could require a banner to appear above the anchor and impose a significant fine on news outlets who do not comply. This could be an additional revenue stream for your department.
- Lastly, there needs to be a requirement that local news is just that, local. Having corporate involvement in the content is a dangerous practice that escalates misinterpretation and manipulation. If a corporation is insisting their local affiliates broadcast a common message, then is this not another national news outlet in disguise?
Of course, there are other options. If your mission is truly “to regulate interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories…” (from the F.C.C. website) then I suspect, in addition to monitoring curse words on network television, putting a stop between crossing the line of fact and fiction should be part of that mission. This should extend to national syndicated radio programs as well.
We, as Americans, deserve to be informed of the facts without biased twists or slanted views. We need balanced coverage of every issue, because each is important to someone, to be an informed constituent.
Commissioner Pai, we desperately need you and your commission to do your job!
Lynn Patarini of Old Saybrook teaches writing at several Connecticut colleges.