PS: Isn't there also a problem with appointed officials? Michael Powell, like the Electoral College and the Supreme Court that decided the last election, seems to have increasing power…

BM: I think that’s more or less the way its always been, but I think the problem you’re getting at, though, is there’s an anti-democratic… the stuff like Electoral College, that’s not a recent development. The US Senate was put in as an explicitly anti-democratic institution, and it was an appointed body until the 20th century… It was a house of lords keeping check on the unruly masses. The Supreme Court, part of its function historically was to be a check on the unruly masses as well that might get out of hand in the House of Representatives.
Having corporate commercial media is a crucial part of the US global vision for the world. This vision of the world is one in which the non-profit, non-commercial sector is small, in which commercial interests run everything, and it’s one in which the idea of media as a commercial enterprise is central, under the belief that, if it’s a commercial enterprise, the chances are very good that the coverage and culture that will emanate from it will be sympathetic to broader commercial interests.
Our system has always had significant anti-democratic elements built into it, and it’s impossible to read the Federalist Papers today and not see quite clearly a theme running through these debates of this tremendous concern that the mass of the population couldn’t be trusted to govern their own lives, that they’d threaten the status quo if they were given that sort of power. So those problems still remain, and there are forces in our society in the United States who are very much of the school that we should minimize the role of popular forces in our society. The problem with all these appointed officials, like Michael Powell, is the elected aren’t always that much better. This is where we have to look at things like the role of big money in politics, the role of lobbyists, the corruption of that side. While they are accountable to elections, most elections in our country are no more competitive than were the elections to Stalin’s Politburo. The vast majority are not even contested in any serious manner. We have deep fundamental problems with regard to democracy in the Untied States. Appointed positions is part of it, perhaps, but a lot of it goes to the structure of how our system was set up. And a lot of it has to do with the corruption of how our politicians are selected, and just the way our system is set up to discourage effective popular involvement, all along the way.

PS: So, where do you see the next battle for information control taking place? The internet? FCC media bureau chief Ken Ferree just said this week that "net neutrality” isn’t a big concern; that is, the FCC need not enact regulations to prevent broadband internet providers from altering--or filtering out completely—web content generated by their competitors.

BM: There are a number of issues that will be alive in the next year or two. Internet issues are some of them. Public broadcasting will be a big issue to come to play. Advertising to children. Ownership of radio stations. There’s a whole series of issues people will be organizing around. The group I’m with, Free Press, we list them on our website. Ken Ferree, who is really cut from the same sort of knucklehead mold of Michael Powell—whatever makes money for the big guys is good, and my job is to come up with some bogus fig leaf to put over their self-interest, that’s his motto—we’ll be battling Ken Ferree. He’s going to be on the wrong side of every fight until he leaves his position with the FCC and accepts a job working for industry at a very high salary. That’s his career trajectory. His work should be understood in that context, that’s what he’s all about.
That’s the big picture here: getting the people involved in the policymaking for media policies to recreate the structure. That’s the revolutionary change we’re in the midst of right now. It’s like the Civil Rights movement in 1951. It’s not 1963, it’s 1951. But it’s not 1896 either. We’ve come a long way in the last year.
We’ve got a lot of fights in front of us. But keep in mind—I’m going to be Johnny One-Note here--that until this year we would’ve thought that all these fights would’ve been done behind closed doors with minimal public involvement and would’ve had terrible outcomes. That would’ve been obvious. Now, suddenly, everything’s in play. Now, suddenly, we might have millions of people get involved in these issues, whereas before it was hundreds in many cases, not even thousands. Now, suddenly, there’s a chance we can actually win these issues. We can actually change our media environment in a way that would’ve been unthinkable six or 12 months ago. Whether it’s gonna happen, that’s gonna take a lot of hard work, but now it’s not totally absurd to talk about it. It was totally absurd to talk about it in these terms ayear ago. It was totally hypothetical.

PS: In your UN report, you mention efforts to have the World Trade Organization regulate culture. Is there a movement to categorize culture as trade?

BM: Oh yeah. That’s one of the big issues in the whole global trade negotiations. It’s been fought out, and it hardly gets any press coverage at all and very few people know about it. But it’s a hot issue, absolutely.

PS: It strikes me if that happens—if intangibles are regulated the same way as tangible goods—we might not have Bollywood, the Cannes festival, and Japanese gameshows where contestants endure excruciating pain to win big prizes.

BM: I don’t know. The logic of what the trade deals are would basically eliminate the ability to have public subsidies, so public broadcasters would be in deep doo-doo. They’d eliminate government subsidies as unfair competition with commercial media. And they’d also make it easier for US and international/transnational companies to go in and buy up local media. I think those are the two direct implications. Then you can consider what the logical results of that would be.

PS: As we focus on the 45% cap and the cross-ownership in the recent debates, is there a bigger question we’re missing?

BM: It’s a much bigger question. Our media system operates the way it does because of its structure. The structure is due almost entirely to policies, government policies made in the public’s name, entirely outside the public’s informed consent. So now basically, we have a debate emerging that maybe we should have these policies reflect the public… That’s the big picture here: getting the people involved in the policymaking for media policies to recreate the structure. That’s the revolutionary change we’re in the midst of right now. It’s like the Civil Rights movement in 1951. It’s not 1963, it’s 1951. But it’s not 1896 either. We’ve come a long way in the last year. Whether it’s going to keep going at this pace, I don’t know. I’m doing everything I can to blow on the flames. A lot of people are. We’ll see. I think it will. I think this has legs.

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