“Whoever controls the media controls the mind,” said the poet Jim Morrison, lead singer for the Doors in the late 1960s.
“Who are the Brain Police?” asked Frank Zappa of the Mothers of Invention is his 1966 album Freak Out.
Those quotes and so many more like them were just part of that drug-addled mayhem of the Sixties and Seventies, right? All that stuff that rose up in rabid opposition to the Establishment and threatened the status quo? The delirium that seized our young people for a brief few years before all those wild creatures were brought back into the corral or put to sleep, subsumed by free enterprise, the clarion call of consumerism, and the harsh light of reality? Was that all it was?
Now, a half century later, we look around at the world we have created, that which we bequeath with a grimace, a shrug of the shoulders, and no small amount of shame to our children and grandchildren, and we wonder: why didn’t we pay attention to the truth when it was presented to us?
Ask yourself this: if you had been assured back then that today ninety percent of all the radio and television stations in the United States, more than nine out of every ten of them, would be owned by less than a dozen corporations, would you have been concerned? Would you have said, “No, that can’t be right. These are public airwaves. They belong to the people. They are there for the public benefit. It is critical information infrastructure. The essential stuff of a free and democratic society.” Would you have believed it?
If you were told that Gannett and Sinclair and a couple of other obscure corporate entities one day in the not too distant future would own virtually every remaining newspaper in the country, and that they would be shrinking them to pale copies of their once vigorous selves, would you have said to yourself, “This sounds like the ravings of the hippie leftists.”
Oh, but it’s true. A handful of companies now own the Fourth Estate. Lock, stock, and barrel. Every reporter, every talking head, every scribe, and especially all those radio talk show hosts, those ranting commentators posing as journalists on cable television, very nearly all of them are telling you what a very few, very powerful people want you to hear.
Are they the Brain Police? Maybe. Are they who controls the media? Certainly. They do.
There was a legacy, back when we were being warned about such things, that broadcast media was not only believed to be for the public interest but regulated as such. A license from the Federal Communications Commission to broadcast was granted with this focus: “(the Communications Act) directs us to base our broadcast licensing decisions on whether those actions will serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” HERE
Licenses were for a limited term and were to be renewed subject to a review of the licensee’s performance: “….the station itself must be operated as if owned by the public….It is as if people of a community should own a station and turn it over to the best man in sight with this injunction: ‘Manage this station in our interest…’ The standing of every station is determined by that conception.” (3) HERE
There was a Fairness Doctrine from the earliest days of radio until it was scuttled by President Reagan in 1987. “The main agenda for the doctrine was to ensure that viewers were exposed to a diversity of viewpoints.” (emphasis added) HERE Although tested repeatedly in court by licensees, the principal of “public interest” as superior to the rights of the broadcaster was upheld.
Writing for the Court, Justice Byron White declared:
A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a radio frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the Government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others…. It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.  HERE
Once that doctrine was vacated, the advent of talk radio and its sometimes savage promotion of ideology was quick to follow. That it could gain an audience presumably became the proof of “public interest, convenience, and necessity.”
Public interest as a definable concept has been punted back and forth from the FCC and Congress for 90 years now, and neither of them is willing and/or able to get it done. Difficult as it may be, one assumes we all could agree there is nothing in the public benefit to licensing stations that are blatant propaganda mills. Be that as it may, it only got worse.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was intended to address the tsunami of new technologies that were about to wash over us. Whatever good came of it, one ruling changed the broadcasting landscape in the U.S. forever and not for the better. The prohibition against ownership of multiple media outlets was removed. Not surprisingly, the corporations struck immediately to consolodate control of the airwaves.
What has been gained is debatable, but what has been inarguably lost is that “diversity of viewpoints” we once enjoyed. It is possible now to live in a city where the same corporation owns the newspaper, the radio stations, and the television stations.
What has been lost, too, probably irredeemably, is the paramount right of the viewers and listeners, and not of the broadcasters, to use of public airwaves. When we watch, listen, and read with astonishment what passes for news and information in today’s media, and we ask ourselves, “How can this be?” It’s about a message from very, very few people that is being sent through every medium.
If Jim Morrison and Frank Zappa are too radical for you, read what Bill Moyers has to say on the subject HERE